Alexandre Pato has fallen below the youngsters in Chelsea’s squad hierarchy, vindicating the club’s decision to only sign the Brazilian on loan, interim manager Guus Hiddink said on Monday.
Pato, 26, could make the bench for the Premier League champions at Norwich City on Tuesday, over a month after arriving from Corinthians on loan with a view to a permanent deal.
But he has struggled to convince Hiddink that he has the requisite match sharpness and the Dutchman hinted that he would rather include youngsters such as Bertrand Traore and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in his squad.
“He’s eager, we have now the strikers, healthy competition going on with the strikers, in a very good atmosphere,” Hiddink told a press conference at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground.
“Diego Costa is the number one. The other ones have stepped up, especially I’m happy with the progress of Traore.
“Although he’s a young guy and the others might have more status, I’m not just looking at that. I’m looking to the young guys making progress. He and Loic Remy are in position to compete.
“Pato is not ready for 90 minutes, but now coming in the last stage that he is able to play part of the game. Once more I underline we consider also the chances for the young guys.
“Let’s hope he can make some impact in the near future. We have games coming up. The best is to have players on loan in his situation so he can get used to the club and the club can make a proper judgement about his performances in training.
“Hopefully in the shorter part of the game, it’s for mutual parties the best thing to do. At the moment, to be fair to everyone and the youngsters, they’re a bit ahead.”
Hiddink will not include captain John Terry as he wants him to be fit for next week’s Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Paris Saint-Germain following a hamstring injury.
– ‘In-between target’ –
“He’s touching the pitch with some running, see how he’ll react after training this week,” said Hiddink.
“Let’s first wait. I’m a little bit cautious. These types of injuries have the danger of having a setback regardless of age. These kinds of injuries you must be very careful.”
Hiddink, who also hinted that he is ready to rest Costa, said that although Chelsea’s first target has now been reached — avoiding relegation — they are eager to salvage something positive from the campaign.
“When I started in December we were close to the relegation zone, one point,” he said.
“Of course this club must have big targets, but the first objective was as soon as possible to get out of the relegation zone.
“The team did very well with draws and victories. In a relatively short time we have accomplished that in-between target, which is not the target for Chelsea. That encourages us also to go on.
“Of course we say when this goal is achieved, this in-between goal, we watch (look) to fifth or other places. But it’s rather difficult. We like to go back where Chelsea belong.
“But it’s not hard to motivate them. I’m happy with the attitude in recent weeks and before it was growing in December and January.
“I’m happy with their attitude in training and in games. We have had some setbacks in the score during games at home and away, e.g. the last game (a 2-1 comeback win at Southampton).
“They are resilient and they like to come back and score. That was why I was talking (about an) in-between target as soon as possible out of the danger zone, but the real target is higher.”