LONDON, February 20 – Guus Hiddink has warned Chelsea not to take victory for granted after Manuel Pellegrini vowed to go through with his threat to send out a weakened Manchester City team 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 City, who also have to prepare for next weekend’s League Cup final against Liverpool, have been forced to head to Stamford Bridge 24 hours later than they wanted.
In response, the City boss has promised to field a starting line-up comprised mostly of untested youngsters.
“We always try to play with a strong team in every competition, every competition is important, especially the FA Cup,” Pellegrini said.
“We are very interested in continuing in this cup. But 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.
“For different reasons we couldn’t play that day. We must prioritise the Champions League, so we’ll see what is the best team we can put on the pitch for the FA Cup.”
At first glance, it appears Pellegrini has handed Chelsea a gift-wrapped place in the quarter-finals because Hiddink, whose side played their Champions League last 16 first leg tie against Paris Saint German earlier this week, can afford to send out a stronger team this weekend.
But the Blues’ interim manager believes the City kids could pose a significant threat because they will be so motivated to make the most of a rare moment in the spotlight.
Hiddink is also concerned City have been stung by damaging successive defeats against Premier league title rivals Leicester and Tottenham and will be desperate for a morale-boosting win.
“A big team always reacts. We are warned. We’ll take ourselves and them very seriously,” said Hiddink, who will be without injured captain John Terry.
“Hypothetically, if City play a younger side they will go to 120 per cent effort so it does not always work in your favour. Let’s see what happens Sunday. ”
– Formality –
Despite Hiddink’s caution, what appeared at the time of the draw to be the tie of the round could be transformed in a formality by Pellegrini’s stance.
The Chilean has been accused of disrespecting the famous old competition, but he knows City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners would much prefer success in Europe rather than a first FA Cup triumph since 2011.
Pellegrini, who will be replaced by Pep Guardiola at the end of the season, would also prefer to leave with the Champions League trophy as a reminder of his talents.
And he points to a lengthy injury list as another reason why he will rest the likes of Joe Hart, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
“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 added.
City’s lack of experience on Sunday could provide Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard with a golden opportunity to play his way back into form after Hiddink called on the under-achieving Belgian to raise his level.
Hazard has been a shadow of the dynamic force who helped Chelsea win the English title last season and he was substituted during Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Paris.
“It’s not about just attitude,” Hiddink said. “He was in a difficult situation, but he has to step up. He knows that.
“We had our talks with him about how to step up to the next level. That’s what his wish is.”