Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel brings balance to team - Guus Hiddink
Guus Hiddink insists that Jon Obi Mikel is the "ideal player" to bring balance to Chelsea's midfield after the Nigeria international shone in Sunday's 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Mikel was a surprise starter alongside the returning Cesc Fabregas at Selhurst Park with Nemanja Matic dropping to the bench, and completed 78 of 82 passes from the base of midfield as Chelsea produced their most convincing performance of the season to move six points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
Goals from Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa provided an emphatic scoreline for Chelsea but, speaking at his news conference after the match, Hiddink was keen to highlight Mikel's less glamorous but equally important contribution to the win.
"He played very well as he also did in the previous games," the Dutchman insisted of Mikel. "He's the ideal player in my option to bring balance to the team.
"If the team is not willing to defend well or have the right balance then you concede a lot of goals. I thought John Obi can be one of the key figures in getting the balance back. On top of that the talented players can then explore their qualities.
"He can recover the radar. He knows the game very well. He knows where the strength of the opponent is and he knows exactly how to cope with that. He has a very good eye, a very good nose, and a very good sense of where to recover.
"He doesn't do it in a very brutal way -- he's very, very elegant. What I like to see very much is not just a quality player but a player who can defend so smoothly. It's beautiful to see. He doesn't lose many balls, he's good in short passing. I don't expect and I don't ask him to make the decisive final pass. He can but no, we let the other players do that."
Chelsea have now kept back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League after securing a goalless draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford last month, and Hiddink admits tightening up the defence was his first priority upon returning to Stamford Bridge as interim manager.
"If the team hasn't been doing well for a long period then it is important to look for security," he added. "That's why we emphasised good, hard work in a tactical defensive way. I don't like to see a team drop back very far and seek false security but to look forward and get the ball forward as soon as possible. When they get the ball they know how to play.
"We don't need to add a lot to the quality of the players. They are blessed by nature with a big quality but they have to know that when things are not going well, you have to look for the causes.
"That's why the very talented players started working on the dirty work and not just the beautiful game -- because this league is very demanding and if you think you can do it just on your natural quality this league will kill you.
"The attitude is okay and automatically their quality comes through. The efficiency of this quality in the past half-year has been very low. We talked about that, we did it in training -- small conversations -- but if they have this quality and the team is well organised they must produce and then we can enjoy how they play."