London: Chelsea punished Manuel Pellegrini’s controversial decision to field a remarkably inexperienced team as Eden Hazard inspired a 5-1 demolition of Manchester City in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday.
With City due to make the long flight to the Ukraine on Monday ahead of their Champions League last 16 first-leg tie at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, Pellegrini had pleaded with the FA not to bow to demands from television networks to move the Chelsea game from its original Saturday date.
But Pellegrini’s request was ignored and, concerned that injury-hit City were in danger of being stretched to breaking point, the Chilean boss prioritised European success and next weekend’s League Cup final against Liverpool, admitting that he didn’t consider the Stamford Bridge showdown “a real game”.
Pellegrini had warned fans they wouldn’t get value for money because he would rest stars like Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure and he was true to his word as he fielded an unrecognisable starting line-up featuring six teenagers, five of whom were making their full debuts.
In contrast, Guus Hiddink, with the luxury of having played in the Champions League already this week, named his strongest available side and it was men against boys as they swept into the quarter-finals thanks to a pair of assists and a goal from Hazard.
Diego Costa put Chelsea ahead and, although David Faupala equalised for the visitors, second half goals from Willian, Gary Cahill, Hazard and Bertrand Traore handed City a third successive defeat.
West Ham also reached the quarter-finals on Sunday as Tottenham Hotspur were knocked out by fellow capital club Crystal Palace.
Martin Kelly was Palace’s unlikely hero at White Hart Lane as his first goal for the south London side — and first for anyone since he scored 1,545 days previously for Liverpool at Chelsea in November 2011 — on the stroke of half-time proved the difference.
Palace’s reward was a quarter-final away to second-tier Reading, a club once managed by Eagles boss Alan Pardew.
Chelsea are away to Everton in a repeat of the 2009 FA Cup final which the Blues won during current caretaker boss Guus Hiddink’s first spell as interim manager.
West Ham, who in Sunday’s opening fifth round tie saw off Championship Blackburn Rovers 5-1, will travel to the winners of Monday’s tie between third-tier Shrewsbury Town and struggling Manchester United.
Meanwhile holders Arsenal, bidding to become the first club to win the FA Cup three years in a row since the 19th Century, must see off Hull in a replay following Saturday’s goalless draw at the Emirates if they are to face Watford in next month’s quarter-finals.
Tottenham, second in the Premier League, had earlier seen Dele Alli twice hit the post with the same shot and this loss ended their hopes of emulating the celebrated League and Cup ‘double’ winning Spurs team of 1960/61.
Pardew, a member of the Eagles’ side that lost the 1990 final and West Ham manager when they lost to Liverpool in the 2006 showpiece match, was delighted by his team’s resilience.
“It was a victory that was well earned on the training ground,” he said. “No-one’s ever won it without a little bit of luck.” AFP