For Claudio Ranieri and Avram Grant, we now know, not even winning the Champions' League would have been sufficient to merit continuing as Chelsea manager. With Guus Hiddink, there is a different problem: even though the club have put the right man in the right place, the timing is all wrong.
At present, the Dutchman can cope with managing both Chelsea and Russia, just as he did with PSV Eindhoven and Australia. It is in the autumn, when the Russians have four key World Cup games plus, in all probability, a two-leg play-off, that even the multi-skilled Hiddink would be stretched to a tautness that the Russian Federation does not regard as tolerable. And yet...why, having found the right man – the one England should have appointed after Sven Goran Eriksson – would Roman Abramovich want to start all over again with Milan's Carlo Ancelotti or anyone else?
No wonder there was wistful, as well as wishful, thinking when John Terry contemplated the matter outside Anfield after Chelsea's – and Hiddink's – triumph over Liverpool on Wednesday night. "The manager's come here and done brilliantly well, got the lads together and got us playing freely," he said. "We'd love him to stay. He's on at us every day in training, he always wants us to improve and be better, he lets no one get away with anything on the pitch or off the pitch and has done fantastically well. That's what we need, we need stability at the club now. But that's down to the board to make those decisions."
He was even prepared to come back to the same point later, hoping perhaps that those with Abramovich's ear might be among the delighted Chelsea throng passing by in their club blazers. "[Abramovich and Hiddink] have a good relationship. Things have gone very well since the manager has come in and I'm sure there will be talks ongoing. If we keep progressing well there's only going to be one option for that. And that's for the people upstairs to get the right man. He's done brilliantly well."
While not as permanent a fixture in the technical area as the fretting Rafa Benitez, Hiddink appeared at key points to instruct Terry: "He didn't want us to let it slip late on. He was saying to me, Alex and Michael [Essien] to make sure we stayed solid and got Branislav [Ivanovic] in as a four if Ashley [Cole] went forward. Michael's played at centre-half, so if you get sucked out by [Fernando] Torres or Stevie [Gerrard], Michael sits in there. It worked very well."
It did, just like the instruction at half-time to an inspired Essien to cut down Gerrard's space even more ruthlessly. It was Hiddink, too, who had observed that Liverpool's controversial zonal marking might leave them flat-footed at set-pieces against tall, brave and aggressive jumpers, of whom Ivanovic proved to be the Serbian joker in the multi-national pack.
Ashley Cole added of the manager: "He's changed the way we play and I think he's changed our mentality. We seem to be a team who wants to win things now and we're not gung-ho, we're solid as a team. I think the lads are very happy with what he's done."
Among those achievements is to make Florent Malouda, architect of the killer third goal, look like the player whose Champions' League exploits at Lyon earned him a move to London in the first place. No previous Chelsea manager had done that. Hiddink also identified Liverpool's centre-right triangle of Dirk Kuyt, Gerrard and right-back Alvaro Arbeloa as the key area, and his team's failure to shut it down, leading to Torres' early goal, was their one defect on the night.
If the coaches at this exalted level regard football as chess on wheels, there will be much hard thinking done by Benitez in particular over the next two days. How can he loosen Gerrard – who may be unfit anyway – from Essien's grip this time? Can Javier Mascherano, missing from the first leg after a stupid yellow card in the previous round, now do the same job on Frank Lampard? At 3-1 down, it is probably academic.
Terry, knowing he would be suspended for the second leg, responded as defiantly during the remainder of Wednesday's game as Roy Keane had done when ruled out of the 1999 final in similar circumstances. "I'm not standing here saying it's over," Chelsea's captain insisted. But he must have been sorely tempted to.
The Second Legs
TUESDAY: BAYERN MUNICH (0) v BARCELONA (4)
Presumably Jürgen Klinsmann has not dared to come out with the German equivalent of "it's only half-time". It may be, but his Bayern side are down and out.
CHELSEA (3) v LIVERPOOL (1)
With or without Steven Gerrard, all those taunts about Chelsea's lack of history are about to be stuffed down Merseyside throats again.
WEDNESDAY: ARSENAL (1) v VILLARREAL (1)
The game of two halves in Spain has left Arsenal well placed; and hoping to meet Porto in a winnable semi-final.
PORTO (2) v MANCHESTER UNITED (2)
Time for one of those epic away performances that decorate United's European story, otherwise the holders are going out.
Odds (William Hill): 13-8 Barcelona; 100-30 Chelsea; 4-1 Manchester Utd; 9-2 Arsenal; 14-1 Porto; 33-1 Liverpool; 40-1 Villarreal; 300-1 Bayern.
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