Manuel Pellegrini insisted that Manchester City had no choice but to prioritise the Champions League over the FA Cup following their fifth-round loss at Chelsea.
City made nine changes and fielded six teenagers – five of them making their full debuts – in yesterday’s 5-1 defeat at Chelsea, who next play Everton in the quarter-finals.
Pellegrini’s men play Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday and the Capital One Cup final against Liverpool is next Sunday, so the City boss delivered on his promise to make wholesale changes.
“If one team respects all the cups it’s this team,” said Pellegrini, who denied disrespecting the competition.
“That’s why we are in the final of the Capital One Cup, that’s why we won the two previous games in this cup. Today we couldn’t because I think we have more important things at this moment.
“I think one of the most important things that we must do here in England is to try to help English teams playing [in the] Champions League.
“We cannot take the risk. I have just 13 players [available] at this moment.”
Pressed on why the FA Cup was considered less of a priority than Europe, Pellegrini added: “It’s not more important.
“I don’t think I need to defend [the selection]. We played two rounds before and we had in both rounds a draw with Premier League teams and we won 4-0 and 3-0 [against Aston Villa and Norwich].
“The FA Cup, yes, of course [is special]. [But] we have seven players injured. It’s impossible for us to take the risk to play in both competitions.
“We have an option for the first time in our club to try to reach the quarter-final of the Champions League. With 13 players [available], not to prioritise, it’s a sensible decision.”
When Chelsea took the lead after 35 minutes, it was two of Pellegrini’s senior players – rather than the youngsters – who were at fault. Diego Costa was allowed space on the six-yard box between Aleksandar Kolarov and Martin Demichelis and, when Eden Hazard hooked the ball across goal, Costa had as much time as he liked to head powerfully past Willy Caballero.
But the lead only lasted two minutes. City forward Kelechi Iheanacho received a pass on the right and spread the ball into Chelsea’s six-yard area. Cesar Azpilicueta tried to clear, but David Faupala stretched out a leg in anticipation and scored a debut goal.
As he celebrated with teammates in the corner of the pitch, coins were thrown at the City players from the stand housing Chelsea fans. “There were coins thrown to the Man City players in their celebration,” Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink said. “We condemn it, I condemn it strongly. Those people, they should not come into stadiums.”
Chelsea dominated thereafter. Willian latched on to a Hazard pass after the break to finish ruthlessly, then Gary Cahill fired in from 18 yards after Fernandinho’s feeble attempt to clear a corner. Hazard converted a free-kick, before Bernard Traore scored with a late header. Chelsea could even afford for Caballero to save an Oscar penalty.