Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard admits the Premier League title is 'very probably settled' as he fears Manchester United cannot be caught at the summit.
Guus Hiddink's appointment has coincided with an upturn in Chelsea's results which have seen the club climb into second spot at the expense of a faltering Liverpool.
It is, though, United that look on course to record a third successive title as Sir Alex Ferguson's side find themselves on a run of 11 consecutive league victories and with a game in hand over their rivals.
While loath to concede the title outright, Lampard accepts second place could be the prize they are playing for at the campaign's conclusion.
"Our results since the arrival of Hiddink, especially the important victories against Aston Villa and Wigan, have put us back on the rails but there is still work to do," Lampard told Aujourd'hui Sport.
"The title is very probably settled, even if we intend to fight all the way. There is no question of us giving the crown to Manchester United and
we are going to believe until it is mathematically impossible.
"And then we will do everything to assure ourselves of second place, which would qualify us automatically for the Champions League next season."
Hiddink's five games in the dugout to date have yielded as many victories and the experienced and highly regarded Dutchman has clearly made an impression on Lampard.
"Our performances have been disappointing too many times this season but the new coach has given us a boost," Lampard added.
"He gives off something. Respect, of course, but also a certain aura.
"All the great coaches I have worked with have that fear factor about them and Hiddink is one of those.
"He is a great coach who has experience at great clubs and at international level, and someone who has also picked up good results in all his posts.
"Recently, we have found our old spirit. We have seen in our last two or three matches that our determination and fighting qualities have returned.
"Guus always says the right thing. He knows what needs to be said and when. He is class."