Guus Hiddink feels empty and says Antonio Conte faces challenge to make top four
Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink is feeling empty and admits Antonio Conte faces a challenge to steer the Blues back into the Premier League's top four after a chastening season.
Last season's champions play Manchester City on Saturday in a fixture many predicted could be decisive in the Premier League title fight. Yet it sees 10th versus fourth at Stamford Bridge.
City are in the Champions League semi-finals and won the Capital One Cup, but are out of title contention. Their season can be considered a success compared to Chelsea's.
Conte will become the permanent successor to Jose Mourinho after this summer's European Championships, but with broadcast billions increasing the competition in the Premier League, Hiddink expects the Italian will have his work cut out.
"There are no guarantees whatsoever," Hiddink said.
"The clubs will have more money to spend next year, which means the league will be even more competitive, which is very nice for everyone, except for those who have been used to being at the top for many years.
"We're used to fighting for something and nothing is at stake at this moment.
"That's strange. You're a little bit empty because there's no silverware to go for."
Hiddink refused to blame Mourinho for Chelsea's season unravelling, but the Dutchman has restored stability after his appointment for a second caretaker spell in December.
The Blues' defeat at Swansea last week was their first in the league in Hiddink's 15 matches and he wants the players to show "what they are capable of", beginning against City.
Captain John Terry (Achilles), striker Loic Remy (groin) and playmaker Eden Hazard (hip/groin) are again out.
Hazard was last season's PFA Players' Player of the Year, but has failed to net in the league this term.
The Belgian is nearing a return after training with the first team this week, but will not be considered to face City.
Hiddink attributed the "alarming", "drastic fall" in form of the playmaker to injuries.
"I was racking my head also 'what can I do to get him back on track?'" he added.
"He fell too much into injuries and had difficulties to come back and get out of that."
Striker Diego Costa is available following his three-game suspension.
Hiddink added: "He didn't (take a break). He was working very hard, also individually when we were on the road. He's very eager to play."
Willian (calf), Nemanja Matic (bruised leg) and Gary Cahill (hip) are available again and Hiddink is likely to make some changes following the loss at Swansea, when Alexandre Pato and Matt Miazga were among the starters.
Hiddink defended his selection of Radamel Falcao, as a substitute, and Pato, who made the first start of his six-month loan deal.
He said Brazilian Pato "deserves to start one game at least, to give him the chance to show what he can do", following his performances in training.
It is likely he will make way for Costa against City.
Fixtures against Tottenham, Sunderland and Leicester mean Chelsea could still have an influence at the top and bottom of the table in the remainder of the season.
"We had a good week," said Hiddink, who leaves at the end of the campaign.
"What I ask from them is to go into tomorrow's match and the rest of the league matches with the ambition and desire for a good run in the last games."