City to spurn FA Cup chance

Manuel Pellegrini

Manuel Pellegrini

LONDON. — Managers threatening to play a weakened team in the FA Cup has become a familiar sound in recent seasons and Manuel Pellegrini joined the chorus ahead of Manchester City’s fifth-round tie away to Chelsea tomorrow.

Manchester City will field a weakened team for this weekend’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Chelsea but the home club will not follow suit, their respective managers said yesterday.

City are prioritising the Champions League, in which they play Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, their manager Manuel Pellegrini said.

“We have just 13 players available to play and have to play the Champions League on Wednesday,” he told a news conference.

“We’ll see the best team we can play on Sunday (at Chelsea).

“I always try to play with a strong team in every competition. They are all important but we must prioritise the Champions League.

“For me always the priority is the next game but we must make an exception now because of so many injuries. After that, we have to play a really important 180 minutes (over two legs) against Kiev.”

The Chilean added that it was difficult for a leading club to cope with a long run in the FA Cup as well as the Capital One (League) Cup — in which City play Liverpool in the final on February 28 — because league matches had to be postponed.

He is also unhappy that the Chelsea game was moved from today to tomorrow for live television coverage, giving his team less time to prepare for the trip to Ukraine in the Champions League.

“Something is not correct with the Cup — if you continue to the final, you have to postpone three Premier League games and then fit them in later,” he said.

“And in every other league they try to help teams that are in the Champions League. Here you must do that also if you want to be successful in Europe.”

Chelsea played their Champions League tie away to Paris St German on Tuesday.

Their interim manager Guus Hiddink, who won the FA Cup during his previous spell in charge in 2009, is adamant they will be going all out to lift the trophy for the fourth time in eight seasons. They also won it in 2010 and 2012. Hiddink warned that any young players City pick “will be going 120 percent”.

He added that injured captain John Terry will again be missing but should be fit next weekend. At both ends of the English Premier League, the financial incentive to either qualify for the Champions League or avoid relegation has led to many managers drawing on their extended squads for FA Cup ties.

In fairness to Pellegrini, who was told at the start of this month that he would be replaced as City manager by Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola at the end of the season, his FA Cup dilemma this weekend is not of his own making.

The BBC, who are broadcasting City’s Cup tie, have had their request to get the game moved from today to tomorrow accepted by the FA.

That means Pellegrini’s men will be in action 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 a week on Sunday.

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 may be tempted to rest the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Joe Hart at Stamford Bridge.

Elsewhere, Chelsea defender Gary Cahill backed his side to cope if regular centre-back partner Terry remains sidelined.

The Blues’ skipper missed the 2-1 Champions League defeat by Paris St Germain on Tuesday, a result that ended their 12-match unbeaten run.

But Cahill said he had no problems in lining up with Branislav Ivanovic, who was alongside him in Paris.

“I played with Iva in the Premier League and in the (2013 Europa League) final and was successful, so I don’t see it being a problem if John’s not available,” Cahill told espnfc.com.

Arsenal, bidding to become the first club since Blackburn Rovers in the 19th century to win the FA Cup three years in a row, face Hull City on Saturday — just three days before Spanish giants Barcelona arrive at the Emirates Stadium for a Champions League clash.

An FA Cup run would enliven a season that threatens to end in mid-table mediocrity for Everton, whose last major piece of silverware came when they lifted the trophy in 1995.

But with the Toffees six points adrift of fifth-placed Manchester United, Everton manager Roberto Martinez — the Wigan Athletic boss when they upset the odds to beat Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final — made his priorities clear.

“First of all we need to look at the league,” said the Spaniard, whose side go to Bournemouth.

“We’re going into the final third of the season. That means 36 points to fight for, and we are not far away from the European places.

“That’s what we’re going to fight for.”

The other all top-flight FA Cup tie this weekend involves two London clubs, with high-flyers Tottenham Hotspur at home to Crystal Palace.

Meanwhile, Manchester United will look to bounce back from the embarrassment of a 2-1 defeat by Danish side FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie — a result that added to the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal — when they face third tier Shrewsbury Town on Monday.

Meanwhile, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes keeping the tradition of FA Cup replays is important for the competition.

Questions have been raised about the amount of games top-flight clubs are forced to play, considering the league, Capital One Cup, FA Cup and European fixtures for those that may have qualified. West Ham boss Slaven Bilic earlier this week called for the FA to scrap cup replays in order to enforce a winter break, he wrote in his Evening Standard column.

The idea has been mooted and debated about whether cup tradition can stand in the way of practicality this week. But Wenger, who is in charge of a team who is widely affected by mid-week replays, has urged to keep the tradition going.

“This is the most traditional competition in England. Let’s respect it and keep it as it is,” he said.

“Next season we have even more money coming in, so every single club will have 25 top level players. There is no real need for me to change the rules.

“I believe the first game on television I ever saw in France was an FA Cup game. We had no television and we had to go to school where we had a black and white screen and we could watch the FA Cup final.

“At that time I could never imagine I would play 100 FA Cup games. It is a privilege, because 100 is quite a big number and we have done well in the FA Cup most of the time. I want to defend my record.” — AFP.

FA Cup fifth round fixtures (all 5pm unless stated)

Today: Arsenal v Hull City (2:45pm), Bournemouth v Everton (7:15pm), Reading v West Bromwich Albion, Watford v Leeds United

Tomorrow: Blackburn Rovers v West Ham United (4pm), Chelsea v Manchester City (6pm), Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace

Monday: Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United (9:45pm)

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