John Obi Mikel: Guus Hiddink makes Chelsea players free to play
PARIS -- Guus Hiddink has given Chelsea's players the freedom to express themselves again with his relaxed style of management, according to John Obi Mikel.
Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and substitute Edinson Cavani saw Chelsea beaten 2-1 by Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, but they head into next month's return fixture with realistic aspirations of reaching the last eight after a spirited performance and Mikel's away goal.
The Nigerian has returned to prominence since Hiddink succeeded Jose Mourinho on an interim basis in December, playing a key role in Chelsea's 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions prior to the PSG defeat, and believes his manager's calm demeanour is exactly what the team needed to begin to salvage a nightmare season in the Premier League.
"I've seen them all," Mikel said, referring to Chelsea's lengthy list of managers in the Roman Abramovich era. "Guus has come in again and settled things.
"Players feel free to play and free to have responsibility and thrive on responsibility but do it in a very relaxed way, which is sometimes what players need.
"Guus has come in and done that. We're picking up results in the league and we're very much in this tie.
"We've been through a difficult period, no doubt about it, but Guus has come in and settled the ship and now we're picking up results, and doing really well back home in the league. This was the first game under Guus in the Champions League and we're still very much alive.
"The second leg is going to be massive and, hopefully, this away goal is going to be decisive. If we get a 1-0 win, we're through. We have to believe we can do it and believe in what we're doing with Guus."
Often a squad player in his 11 years at Stamford Bridge, Mikel has earned Hiddink's trust as a regular starter across two interim spells as manager, making 25 appearances for the Dutchman and ending on the losing side for the first time at Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
"It feels great to be back in the team," Mikel added. "Sometimes it is disappointing not to be part of the team, not to play, but I've always been professional. I never speak out, I never get upset. I carry on doing my job, coming to training every day to train with the guys who are playing.
"This is football. In one second it changes. I've always believed in myself and kept doing what I was doing and Guus came in and has given me the opportunity, and, hopefully, that will continue."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.