It’d be a curious statement to make in any other season but this; a season where Leicester and Spurs seem to hold all the right cards and the likes of Chelsea sit a mere seven points above relegation. Numbers can often be skewed to frame a story to a certain narrative, but it would be wrong to suggest that the Blues are languishing at the moment.
If anything, it appears Gus Hiddink has managed to not only stop, but quickly reverse the rot that Jose Mourinho had presided over up until his dismissal in mid-December. At that point, Chelsea had lost nine of their last sixteen games and the squad harmony was in chronic disarray.
Under Hiddink’s guidance, Chelsea have been unbeaten in all competitions and over the past number of weeks we’ve seen the gradual re-emergence of a number of previously lax talents. Oscar, for one, has come back into the fold in recent weeks and is carrying increased fantasy potential with four goals and two assists in all competitions under the Dutchman. Even Cesc Fabregas is beginning to look slightly more like the player who bagged 18 assists in Chelsea’s march to the title last season.
Over the next five league fixtures, Chelsea do battle with Newcastle, Southampton, Norwich, Stoke and Liverpool. Disregarding a potentially tricky encounter with a rock solid Saints team, the rest of these matches look very manageable and winnable games. Sure, their resources are likely to be strained through Champions League commitments, but for the most part this looks like a profitable period both in their climb up the table and in terms fantasy potential. Not least for Diego Costa.
The baddest man in Premier League football is enjoying some scintillating form of late, turning the tide on a dismal and wayward pre-Christmas period that threatened to cause the derailment of his Chelsea career. Over his past six Gameweeks, the Spain international has been back playing the role of the traditional centre-forward and he’s excelling at it.
In this timeframe, Diego Costa has secured more touches in the penalty area than any other forward, with 57 in total. Likewise, this apparent refocusing of the ex-Atletico man down the middle – he was prone to drift to the wings looking for the ball in the last days of the Mourinho era – has now contributed to four goals and two assists in his last six Premier League outings.
Aguero, Kane and Wayne Rooney pip the 27 year old for shots on goal across that time period, but averaging 3.7 efforts per game and converting 23% of those under Hiddink’s tutelage, Costa has struck a piping hot vein of form.
Curiously, Costa and Chelsea continue to maintain their status as fantasy pariahs, with just 6.9% of FPL managers stumping up for the striker. Granted, it’s been a bountiful year for less expensive forwards – Vardy, Lukaku and Ighalo among them – but the next slate of fixtures represents a perfect time to draft in Costa and steal a differential march on your fantasy competitors.
It’s not all perfectly rosy again at Stamford Bridge though. Eden Hazard, their marquee player last season, has failed week upon week to recapture any semblance of the form that ranked him as Premier League top dog this time in 2014/15. Similarly, the long term injury hit to Kurt Zouma could impact their defensive cover hard, although keeping clean sheets doesn’t appear to be the current strong suit of this Chelsea side.
Across all the early season turmoil, one player persisted in delivering top level performances, it just so happened to be perhaps their least heralded individual. Willian has enjoyed his finest season in England to date with eight goals and three assists in all competitions and he still represents an under-selected fantasy option with just an 8.7% selection rate.
It doesn’t look as if Hiddink’s second Chelsea tenure will extend beyond the end of this season, but with him at the helm Chelsea and their star striker look to be on the right track at least. Certainly, in PlayON terms they may even round out the season as fantasy darkhorses.