Quique Sanchez Flores can remember it like it was yesterday.
He took a Valencia side, brimming with high-class talent like David Silva, David Villa, Roberto Ayala, David Albelda, to Stamford Bridge in April 2007 for a Champions League quarter-final.
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” said Watford’s head coach. “We played really well. We played amazing in the first half and it was zero 1 [at half-time]. David Silva scored an amazing goal. Chelsea drew with a goal of Drogba in the second half, I remember it perfectly. It was a very strong match but we had the possibility to pass to the semi final.”
Didn’t they just, especially when Fernando Morientes gave them the lead at the Mestalla to add to the away goal they had from the first. But, in what must rank as one of Jose Mourinho’s most memorable wins, Chelsea levelled through Andriy Shevchenko and then won it, at the death, through Michael Essien.
“It was the second minute of injury time,” said Sanchez Flores. “It was vey hard.”
John Obi Mikel and John Terry are the only survivors of that Chelsea team while Didier Drogba, who played in both legs, looks set to be on the bench as a coach today alongside Guus Hiddink.
Harry Kewell, who played under Hiddink when he coached the Australia team, said the Dutchman is one of the best he’s worked under.
“He understood what the Australian mentality is and knew all he had to work on was the defensive side of it,” Kewell said to us in an interview in September. “We ran wild up front but then when we lost it we knew how to get back into it.”
Sanchez Flores worked under Hiddink for three years at Valencia.
“I have a good relationship with him,” said Sanchez Flores. “He’s lovely man, a funny man, a simple person. As a coach he’s always thinking about the ball, the ball possession and is really worried about players feeling free. This was 21 years ago so something may have changed since then. When you are from the Dutch academy they love to move the ball quick and they love players with a high technical level. The players connect a lot with Guus Hiddink. He’s a very good manager.”
Sanchez Flores is not bad, either. Part of his success lies in his due diligence on the opposition, the work he puts in with his trusted analyst to find a chink in the armour of the opposition. Chelsea changing their manager so recently poses the Spaniard the same problem, in terms of being able to do his tactical homework, he faced against Aston Villa who had replaced Tim Sherwood with Remi Garde. The uncertainty in just how the opposition were going to play at Villa Park led to the most open game Watford have been involved in this season.
“We analyse three [Chelsea] matches before,” said Sanchez Flores. “When they change [their coach], it is not valid. What we know about them is not valid anymore. We know a little bit [from watching the] last match. The lines of Chelsea are the same. They are going to be positive and they are going to want to show the manager they can play like a team. They have very good players in the construction of the play, with Matic, Fabregas and Oscar – and good players off to the side like, Willian, Pedro and Hazard. They have a lot of players who can make the difference so we must defend like a collective.”