TheBigMatch

Chelsea's attacking rhythm to test City

Kompany a key factor in Pellegrini's selection dilemma, but revitalised Blues have the edge

The FA Cup is dogged by questions about whether or not it still retains its importance. An examination of two of its recent winners could produce very different answers.

It may well be Chelsea's top priority, with their Premier League top-four chances ended, the probability they will exit the Champions League and the risk their season will effectively end tomorrow.

On the other hand, Manchester City have four games in four competitions in the space of 10 days. The first seems the least of their concerns.

They visit Dynamo Kiev with the reward of a first Champions League quarter-final appearance on offer. They have a double-header against Liverpool, first with the immediate prospect of silverware in the League Cup final and then with the chance to rescue a faltering title charge in the Premier League.

Angered by the Sunday scheduling of their trip to Stamford Bridge, Manuel Pellegrini has threatened to field a severely weakened team in the fifth round's flagship tie.

However, the problem with that plan is that squad players like Fabian Delph, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas are injured. Therefore, the Chilean either has to select a relatively strong side or parachute in youngsters whom he rarely trusts, such as Aleix and Manu Garcia, Bersant Celina and Brandon Barker, none of whom have started a first-team game.

INJURY CRISIS

We have just 13 players available to play and have to play Champions League on Wednesday. We'll see the best team we can play on Sunday.

'' MANUEL PELLEGRINI, Manchester City manager, referencing his side's meeting with Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine.


DRIVEN BY AMBITION

Chelsea are used to picking up silverware so when you don't, you use it as extra motivation to make sure it doesn't happen again.

'' BRANISLAV IVANOVIC , Chelsea defender, on his motivations.

So Pellegrini has a delicate balancing act and circumstances could mean that some of City's premier players must figure. A third successive defeat could create the impression that City's season is going into a tailspin and that he will end his tenure as a lame duck. There will be a particular focus on Vincent Kompany, one game into his comeback and a man whom City require for defining games. He has won physical battles with Diego Costa in the past, but may be denied a rematch.

Kompany was a scorer in August when City won 3-0. It was the first major indication that Chelsea were losing their way under Jose Mourinho. Now they have started to resemble their old selves under Guus Hiddink. It says much about their season that one of their best displays came in defeat, when they lost 1-2 to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, but they have a purpose and a unity.

They have found counter-attacking zeal and, as last week's 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle showed, more attacking incision. Willian has been in form throughout a distinctly mixed season, but now Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro have relieved the burden on the Brazilian. It only falls on Eden Hazard, ineffectual in Paris, to do likewise.

It will be an illustration of both managers' mindsets if they select two holding midfielders or a more progressive side but Hiddink, with six days before another game, has more than just home advantage on his side. Their reigns will both end this summer but the Dutchman is the likelier to bow out at Wembley. Chelsea are tomorrow's favourites.

CHELSEA V MANCHESTER CITY
Singtel TV Ch109, tomorrow, 11.50pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Chelsea's attacking rhythm to test City'. Print Edition | Subscribe