Football: No disrespect to FA Cup, claims City boss Pellegrini

Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero looking dejected after conceding the third Chelsea goal. City were defeated 5-1 in the FA Cup fifth-round tie.
Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero looking dejected after conceding the third Chelsea goal. City were defeated 5-1 in the FA Cup fifth-round tie.PHOTO: REUTERS

City boss insists he had no choice but to field youngsters as 13 senior players were injured

LONDON • Manuel Pellegrini refused to apologise for his controversial decision to field a team of youngsters after Manchester City were dumped out of English football's FA Cup with a 5-1 thrashing at Chelsea.

Pellegrini stood accused of disrespecting the famous old competition on Sunday as he selected six teenagers, with five making their full debuts, and then watched them suffer City's heaviest defeat since their Abu Dhabi-based owners bought the club in 2008.

With City due to play their Champions League last-16 first leg at Dynamo Kiev tomorrow and then face Liverpool in the League Cup final this Sunday, Pellegrini felt forced to turn to his raw rookies because the Football Association had refused to listen to his plea to stage the fifth-round tie on Saturday instead of bowing to television demands to play it on Sunday.

FORCED BY CIRCUMSTANCES

If we have 20 fit players then maybe I can take the risk. It's important for young players to play. It's never good to lose 5-1, maybe it's not the best thing to put them in all together but we had no choice.

MANUEL PELLEGRINI, Man City manager, on why he selected six teenagers to face Chelsea in their FA Cup tie.

  • Quarter-final draw

  • Draw for the FA Cup quarter-finals, to be played on the weekend of March 11-14: 

    Reading v Crystal Palace 

    Everton v Chelsea 

    Arsenal or Hull City v Watford 

    Shrewsbury Town or Manchester United v West Ham United

When asked about his decision to effectively gift wrap Chelsea's quarter-final place, he was unrepentant and insisted more should be done to help English clubs competing in the Champions League.

"I don't think I need to defend myself. We played two rounds before against Premier League teams and won by playing the best players we had at that moment," the Chilean said. "In England, one of the most important things we must do is try to help the teams in the Champions League.

"If we have 20 fit players then maybe I can take the risk. It's important for young players to play.

"It's never good to lose 5-1, maybe it's not the best thing to put them in all together but we had no choice.

"If one team respects all the Cups, it's this team. That's why we are in the League Cup final."

After several seasons of underachievement in Europe, City have a good opportunity to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time and Pellegrini had no qualms about sacrificing the FA Cup to achieve that aim.

Success in Europe has been high on the to-do list of City's wealthy owners for years but Pellegrini, battling with injuries to 13 players at present, said the selection move was his alone.

"I always take the best decision," he said. "The Champions League is not more important than the FA Cup. Of course the FA Cup is special but we have several players injured.

"It was impossible to take the risk of playing our senior players in case another one gets injured.

"We have an option to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in the club's history. I think with 13 players out, my decision makes sense."

City's youngsters acquitted themselves well and were level at 1-1 at half-time after David Faupala, the French teenager, cancelled out Diego Costa's goal.

Chelsea's experience and quality then told, as second-half goals by Willian, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and Bertrand Traore did the job.

While Pellegrini has never won the FA Cup, Guus Hiddink knows the special feeling of lifting the trophy after leading Chelsea to victory in the 2009 final.

Now back for a second spell as Chelsea's caretaker, the Dutchman admitted that it was unfortunate when teams of City's standing felt compelled to sacrifice the Cup in favour of chasing other trophies.

"The programme for many clubs is rather harsh, but when you have a squad of quality players you must not forget the tradition of English football," Hiddink said. "Many people are focused on the FA Cup. Winning it is beautiful. We must be careful not to devalue this."

Hiddink's side will travel to Everton in the quarter-finals in a rerun of the final he won seven years ago.

He would love to sign off with another Wembley victory and said Chelsea are targeting success in the Cups after a poor league season.

"There's not much left in the league for Chelsea," he said. "I have good memories of the Cup but that is the past. Everton will remember that final as well and they will go for their revenge."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'NO DISRESPECT TO CUP: PELLEGRINI'. Print Edition | Subscribe