Subtlety is not a word which is often associated with Chelsea, for all the skills of Joe Cole and the passing of Frank Lampard, but, said the latter, it is the subtle changes introduced by Guus Hiddink which have turned their season around. Since taking over from Luiz Felipe Scolari the "temporary head coach", to give Hiddink his official title, has overseen five wins and a draw. The latter, in Turin on Tuesday night, was as good as a win as it ensured Chelsea's progress to the last eight of the Champions League.
"The manager has done very well," said Lampard yesterday. "The changes he has made have been subtle. It is always going to be difficult for a manager coming in mid-season but it is also very important players respond to what he says and we have shown that we have."
It is understood the changes are minor variations in tactics, some careful work with individuals such as Didier Drogba, and, most of all, a change in tone. "The difference," said one player who wished to remain anonymous, "is in the way he talks to us."
As a consequence Chelsea are again playing with the unity which characterised their play under Jose Mourinho. "It was a big result for us to come through this," added Lampard. "It says a lot about this club. The spirit we have had in the last five years is what we are all about. Even when we are faced with incidents like perfectly good goals being disallowed [Drogba's unawarded goal which crossed the line before Gianluigi Buffon dragged the ball back] and penalties given against us [a handball by Juliano Belletti, correctly awarded despite Chelsea's protests] we show the kind of spirit that gets the job done. It is very important in those sort of situations that you keep going.
"It is all down to the players and at times this season maybe we didn't have that spirit and it showed. But [against Juventus], and in the last five games, we have shown just how together we are and when you have got the quality we have in the team you can achieve whatever you want. You won't win the Champions League and the Premier League without that spirit." As well as spirit, added Lampard, tactical nous is vital. "When you get to this stage of the competition performances away from home are vital. They are not always going to be the most beautiful performances but we have to be tactically very clever. In qualifying we weren't always like that. In Rome [Chelsea lost 3-1] we were very open. But now is crunch time and we have shown we are capable.
"There was probably a time a few years ago English teams were a bit more naïve when we played teams like Juventus and that was why they didn't always have success. But there is much more tactical awareness now. It is not all about being strong and having a tempo – it is about being clever in the way you play.
"And it is clear all English teams now have those qualities – you can see that from the results we have had in the last five years. I think when we play with real pace, passion and movement, plus tactical awareness, foreign teams find it hard to handle.
"Italian and Spanish sides respect our game. We should be proud of that. People perhaps don't give English teams the praise they deserve."
Chelsea may well face an English team in the quarter-finals, but Lampard would rather avoid yet another meeting, a fifth in the competition in recent years with Liverpool. "To be honest, we are all a bit fed up with that one and maybe Liverpool don't want to play us either. If fate says it should happen, then so be it, but I think we would all be happy avoiding it."
Lampard insisted the Champions League was not now to be regarded as a priority – "We will fight to the bitter end in the League," he said – but Michael Ballack was perhaps more honest when he said, "Of course it is a priority. Look at the League. We are seven points behind Man U and they have one game in hand so realistically it's very difficult to catch them."Reuse content