Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink praised youngsters Kenedy and Bertrand Traore after the Blues' 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Norwich City on Tuesday night. He's also set finishing in a European place in the Premier League as the Blues' target for this season.
Brazilian Kenedy opened the scoring barely 40 seconds into the game, while 20-year-old Traore was handed a rare start. He played wide as part of the supporting cast for striker Diego Costa, who also found the net.
Hiddink was surprised at how quickly Kenedy struck, according to Dan Levene, a freelance football writer for Eurosport:
Hiddink, asked if he'd ever seen a quicker goal than Kenedy's: "I don't know - I'm not so into statistics." #guusaintnostatto— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 1, 2016
But despite the 20-year-old's goal, Hiddink was forced to remove Kenedy in the second half, although he did try to play down the significance of the injury:
Hiddink says Kenedy was taken off due to a minor groin injury.— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 1, 2016
As for Traore, Hiddink believes the experience gained will prove invaluable:
Guus says starting was a different experience for Bertrand Traore. Sampling the intensity was good for him. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 1, 2016
Hiddink also confirmed how some of Chelsea's young talents have been demanding playing time:
Hiddink: "The youngsters, Kenedy and Traore, are knocking on the door They are very serious about it in training."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 1, 2016
The Blues' crop of precocious youngsters is well-known, yet getting minutes in the starting XI has been difficult. But a midweek league fixture offered the perfect opportunity to give youth its chance.
Still, it took a goal from one of Chelsea's more experienced men, Costa, to actually see off the Canaries. It was a controversial finish since the striker appeared clearly offside when the chance came his way.
Hiddink neglected to confirm direct knowledge of Costa's position but indicated some sympathy for the hosts:
Hiddink on Chelsea's second, offside goal: "I haven't seen it, but if so I can understand people being frustrated."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 1, 2016
The result moved the Blues up to eighth and onto the doorstep of European qualification. Hiddink confirmed that's now the target for last season's champions, per the club:
Guus says a new target must be set towards qualification for Europe through a league position. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 1, 2016
It's a realistic target considering Chelsea's revival since Hiddink succeeded Jose Mourinho as manager.
The upturn in form has the Stamford Bridge club winning regularly, as Hiddink noted when describing the reversal of fortune, according to BBC Sport's Phil Dawkes and Tom Rostance: "We were almost in the relegation zone and had a target to get out of there as soon as possible. We are now winning games in a row and that is encouraging."
A group loaded with attacking talent and used to winning again has to be considered a strong favourite to secure European qualification for next season.