It is 16 years since Ruud Gullit donned the blue of Chelsea. Arriving at Stamford Bridge in the twilight of his career, the former Ballon d’Or winner may have made just 32 appearances for the club, but his presence sparked the beginning of an era of success at Chelsea that has continued to this day. A genuine international superstar, Gullit was responsible for attracting kindred spirits in Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Robert Di Matteo to Chelsea, with the Dutchman then guiding his assembled foreign legion to the club’s first piece of major silverware in 26 years when lifting the FA Cup in 1997.
Despite Gullit’s lengthy absence from the Stamford Bridge turf, his passion for the club remains clear; like Blues fans the world over, he is eagerly anticipating this weekend’s trip to Liverpool for a match that provides Jose Mourinho’s side with a chance to further cement their status as title favourites.
With top-of- the-table Chelsea in commanding form so far this season – currently standing unbeaten in ten games – Gullit is expecting more of the same at Anfield.
“Chelsea are the strongest team in the league judging by their form over the last two months,” Gullit tells Sport360. “They are complete in terms of balance around their squad, a team that can score a lot of goals but also has a very solid defence, which is very important,” said Gullit.
“When they don’t have the ball they are working hard. The most important thing is the foundation of the team – the defence – and the strength Chelsea have across that line.”
In Dubai attending an event organised by Mindshare, Gullit was tasked with speaking to guests about the importance of adaptation in life and business. It is a quality that has certainly served Mourinho well in his second spell of Chelsea manager, with the Portuguese overseeing a significant strengthening of the Blues’ squad after last season’s third-place Premier League finish.
The signings of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been a particular boon, with the latter particular impressing Gullit, who is expecting an intense midfield battle between the Spaniard and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
“The difference with Fabregas compared to most players is that he thinks ahead. It’s not only when he gets the ball. He knows what he’s going to do before he gets the ball and he always thinks forward and that’s a great quality to have as a player,” explains Gullit.
“But if we look at Liverpool, Stevie Gerrard always has a huge impact in games. If he can have an impact to win the game for Liverpool then it’s different. It depends on the players he has around him.”
Costa’s arrival from Atletico Madrid helped solve Chelsea’s biggest problem last season – their inability to score goals. With nine goals in his past 10 games, the former Atletico Madrid man’s confidence is high – something that cannot be said about the recently recumbent Mario Balotelli. But Gullit feels that writing off Liverpool’s erratic frontman could be dangerous.
“It’s true Costa’s had a marvellous start to the season. Mourinho was looking for the new Drogba – a powerful player – and that’s why you can see he’s the same type of player that you can target in a game,” says Gullit. “He can win the ball, hold the ball, and deliver a good pass. It was the missing link for the team. Mourinho didn’t have it with Torres.
“Balotelli in contrast has had a difficult season, everybody sees that. His manager said in the newspaper that it may be his last chance. Balotelli is the only one who can change this. At the moment it’s not working, but there may come a moment when it might click.”
Keeping the likes of Costa, Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Oscar at bay will be a major test for Liverpool’s defence, which has looked rocky so far this season. Chelsea, on the other hand, have not endured such problems at the back – with John Terry in particular appearing revived of late.
“With their defence, Chelsea has more experience in this position as they’ve played together for a long time and are having fewer problems. It’s all about finding the right combination of players who play in the back and Liverpool have struggled here lately.”
— Olivier Oullier (@emorationality) November 5, 2014
“If you look at Terry’s strength as a player and how he leads the team, it is remarkable. His spirit is unbelievable and the way he uses it. He tries to help the younger players to get involved and get the best out of themselves.”
Victory for Terry and Co. at Anfield would see Chelsea establish – temporarily, at least – a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. And though Liverpool desperately need three points themselves to ignite a thus far disappointing season, Gullit is backing his former club to secure the victory.
“I think Chelsea are a better team than Liverpool; it’s going to be really tough for them.”
*Liverpool v Chelsea, beIN Sport, Saturday 16.45
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