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Football: Manuel Pellegrini's Cup Catch-22

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini. PHOTO: REUTERS

Growing FA Cup trend of resting key players has different connotations for Blues, City

LONDON • Managers threatening to play a weakened team in the FA Cup has increasingly become a familiar theme, and Manuel Pellegrini joined the chorus ahead of Manchester City's fifth-round tie away to Chelsea tomorrow.

At both ends of the Premier League, the financial incentive to either qualify for the Champions League or avoid relegation has led to many managers relying on extended squads for FA Cup ties.

In fairness to Pellegrini, his FA Cup dilemma this weekend is not of his own making. The BBC, which is broadcasting City's Cup tie, had its request to get the game moved from Saturday to Sunday accepted by the Football Association.

 

That means Pellegrini's men will play just a day before they travel to Ukraine ahead of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, with City bidding to reach the quarter-finals of Europe's elite club competition for the first time.

That fixture in turn takes place just four days before City face Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley on Feb 28.

For Premier League champions Chelsea, a massive 20 points behind shock league leaders Leicester City, the FA Cup represents their best chance of a trophy this term. But Pellegrini, whose side have lost their last two games, may be tempted to rest the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Joe Hart at Stamford Bridge.

"We have to put Manchester City's interests first," Pellegrini said. "For me, I must do what I feel is best for the club, to play with the strongest team we can in the Champions League."

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, on the other hand, has no plans to rest key players. "We take a very serious approach to the FA Cup," he remarked. "They (City) were a bit unlucky in the last games but a big team always reacts. We are warned."

Hiddink revealed that Chelsea captain John Terry will miss the match with a hamstring injury.

The 35-year-old central defender appeared doubtful for the match after being sidelined from Chelsea's 1-2 loss to Paris St-Germain in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League match on Tuesday with the injury, which he first suffered in last Saturday's Premier League win over Newcastle.

In Terry's absence, Branislav Ivanovic - who started alongside Gary Cahill in Paris - is set to keep his place at the heart of Chelsea's defence.

Hiddink also said that he has urged Eden Hazard to "step up".

The Belgian forward has struggled to recapture the form he showed last season that led to him being named the PFA Player of the Year and the Dutchman has told him to raise his game after another poor performance against PSG.

"It is not just attitude. He was in a difficult situation, he has to step up," the Chelsea manager said.

"We have had talks with him to take him to the next level. He can show more, he is aware of that. Now it is up to him."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Pellegrini in cup catch-22'. Print Edition | Subscribe