The build-up to FA Cup weekend has been overshadowed by scheduling concerns after Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini threatened to field a weakened team against Chelsea tomorrow, and Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew warned that the competition was putting the players involved “at risk”.
City have been frustrated by the scheduling of their game at Stamford Bridge because they have arranged to travel to Ukraine on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev. After flying home following that game they will then have just two full days to prepare for the Capital One Cup final against Liverpool.
Pellegrini wanted the fifth-round tie against Chelsea to be played today but that proved impossible with Fulham at home on the same day and the BBC also choosing to televise the fixture. The club wrote to the FA to complain but the outcome of that protest is unknown and Pellegrini appears to be standing by his plan to play youngsters.
Pellegrini said: “I think unfortunately at this moment we have just 13 [senior outfield] players available to play. We have to play Champions League on Wednesday, so we’ll see what will be the best team we can put on the pitch for the FA Cup.
“I said a couple of weeks ago if you want to protect the English team in the Champions League the game was [played on] Saturday – but for different reasons we couldn’t play that day.”
Making wholesale changes is generally against Pellegrini’s nature, with his usual policy always to retain a solid core while perhaps allowing a handful of senior stars a rest. But the Chilean is hampered by a series of injuries, with Bacary Sagna, Jesus Navas, Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri, Fabian Delph, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony all out.
He therefore feels on this occasion he would be justified in taking, for example, players such as Joe Hart, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero out of the firing line. Pellegrini said: “We always try to play with a strong team in every competition – every competition is important, especially the FA Cup.
“But we must prioritise the Champions League. The priority is [usually] the next game but maybe we are going to make an exception now because of the amount of players we have injured.”
Pellegrini suggests something needs to be done in future to make a prolonged run in the FA Cup – which requires the postponing of Premier League games – sit better with challenges in other competitions.
He said: “Something is not correct in that cup. It is impossible at this moment to continue to the final of the FA Cup. We cannot play the three games we must have postponed.”
Palace manager Pardew agrees. His particular gripe is that, if his team draw tomorrow’s fifth-round tie against Tottenham Hotspur, then they would likely have to play their replay on 8 March – two days after Palace host Liverpool in the league and two before Spurs could compete in the Europa League.
Pardew revealed “discussions” were ongoing regarding a potential change of date and added: “Between the FA and the Premier League, they need to sit down. We are talking about the replay date for this game, and wow, it looks complicated to me.
“Perhaps a little bit of foresight should have been there at the start of this season on the scheduling with some of these replays. We are putting our players at risk. That is not enough recovery time given the amount of effort and capacity we have to play at in the current game.”