The Guus Hiddink effect: Chelsea smiling again after Oscar hat-trick in FA Cup

Against MK Dons, Chelsea played with confidence and conviction. They lost their way, their authority and their identity in autumn. They have regained purpose and freedom, which can seem incompatible, writes Richard Jolly.

Chelsea's Oscar, second left, celebrates scoring his hat-trick goal with, from left, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic during the English FA Cup fourth round soccer match between Milton Keynes Dons and Chelsea at Stadium mk in Milton Keynes, England, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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If Chelsea's most embarrassing result of the Abramovich era came in the fourth round of the FA Cup, it was in 2015, not 2016.

The 4-2 loss to Bradford was astonishing, the 5-1 win over MK Dons impressive. A year on, the competition has seen a return to normality. So have Chelsea.

The fourth-round weekend concluded with the sole shock involving the elimination of Sheffield Wednesday.

The superpowers saw off lesser opponents with conspicuous ease.

Chelsea may have suffered a series of defeats to mid-table Premier League sides during Jose Mourinho's long, painful goodbye – perhaps Bradford sowed the seeds for a series of smaller but still seismic upsets – but they have not been beaten under Guus Hiddink since 2009. An MK Dons side battling relegation to the third tier were brushed aside.

They formed the most generous of opponents, gifting the first goal and affording Chelsea acres of room time and again but there was the unmistakable sense that the fallen champions were enjoying themselves.

It is the Hiddink effect, the conciliator proving the antidote to the controversialist.

They illustrated their expansiveness against MK Dons. They showed their serious side last week. Put both together and Chelsea have become Chelsea again.

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Beating Arsenal was the most Chelsea of results; these things have happened in recent years, regardless of league positions or form or injuries or anything except the fact that Chelsea were playing Arsenal.

Eliminating lower-division opponents was still more predictable, but very different. Chelsea were solid at the Emirates, stylish at stadium mk.

They could have been three goals ahead after 13 minutes and have scored six within half an hour.

Oscar had secured a hat-trick by half-time. His goals got steadily more impressive, from a tap-in to a long-range curler. He seemed ubiquitous.

It was the sort of performance to prompt questions why, with his technical ability, he is not more prolific.

Oscar only mustered three goals in his final 11 months under Mourinho.

What he has demonstrated too rarely is the predatory instinct to get into such positions with such regularity. If that requires a selfishness, a selflessness was appreciated.

He could have scored a fourth. Instead, he permitted Eden Hazard to take a penalty.

The Belgian eventually ended a Chelsea goal drought that extended to 274 days. It amounted to an extraordinary, almost unprecedented fall from grace.

Hazard became the symbol of Chelsea’s malaise, the reigning Footballer of the Year but a man who simply could not score.

A visit to Milton Keynes proved a restorative occasion for him, a breakthrough for both Oscar, who recorded a first Chelsea hat-trick, and substitute Bertrand Traore, who opened his account for the club.

Chelsea played with confidence and conviction. They lost their way, their authority and their identity in autumn. They have regained purpose and freedom, which can seem incompatible.

After Manchester United won at Derby on Friday, Wayne Rooney spoke of their players being granted the freedom to express themselves. It is something Louis van Gaal has struggled to give his charges.

It comes naturally to his fellow Dutchman, the laidback Hiddink. He is a delegator, not a dictator.

His changes are more psychological than tactical. He is coaxing them back to their best, to the standards they reached regularly before Bradford provided a preview of the shocking second half of 2015.

He is allowing a sullen, sulking group to return to happiness. Because the abiding image was not of any of the five goals, but of Diego Costa and Oscar, training-ground sparring partners, sat grinning side by side after the striker had inadvertently denied the midfielder a tap in.

Oscar scored three more. Chelsea have got their smile back.

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