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home UK world sport selected football selected opinion culture business lifestyle fashion environment tech travel browse all sections FA Cup Chelsea and Eden Hazard overwhelm Pellegrini’s weakened Manchester City

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Manchester City’s team selection – and Manuel Pellegrini will argue with anyone who accuses him of going too far with his protests – it was hard not to leave Stamford Bridge thinking that when the story comes to be written about this season’s FA Cup this mismatch will form an unsatisfactory part of the narrative.

This tie ought to have been a cracker. Instead there was an air of inevitability as soon as the teams were announced and it became clear Pellegrini was not making idle threats about fielding a scratch XI and, in effect, waving Chelsea into the quarter-finals.

It would be wrong to say his lineup represented a white flag of surrender but it was a close-run thing at times. Chelsea duly equalled their biggest win of the season and City suffered their heaviest defeat of the Abu Dhabi era. It would have been even heavier if Oscar had scored from the penalty spot and Chelsea will know their luck was in because of the combination of television scheduling, City’s involvement in the Champions League on Wednesday and the overwhelming sense that Pellegrini was absolutely determined to make his point.

In total there were six teenagers in Pellegrini’s team, including five who were making their full debuts, and two more youth-team graduates coming off the bench. Pellegrini had made nine changes and the shirt numbers at the end totted up to 521, including a 75, a 76 and a 77. David Faupala, Tosin Adarabioyo, Bersant Celina, Aleix García, Manu García, Brandon Barker and Cameron Humphreys were included – City’s PR department even sent round a memo before kick-off to give some background on the newbies. The away end was sparsely populated and, for anyone who cares about this competition, it was a shame to see the FA Cup reduced to this level.

Whose fault was that? Pellegrini, prioritising City’s midweek game against Dynamo Kyiv, blames a combination of the Football Association, the BBC and the Metropolitan police for not staging the tie a day or two earlier. The BBC argues there was no Friday slot and the police have made it clear the game could not have taken place on Saturday because Fulham were playing Charlton Athletic a couple of miles down the road. Pellegrini remains convinced City have been dealt a raw deal and, after that, Chelsea were always likely to make it into the last eight by playing their strongest team.

They took a while to get going and it was barely a minute after Diego Costa had put them ahead, with his ninth goal in his last 12 appearances, that Faupala , meaning the sides went into half-time at 1-1. Yet the difference after the interval was stark. Willian re-established Chelsea’s lead within three minutes, breaking out from his own half to add another fine goal to his collection, and it became a harsh lesson for City in which their more experienced players, Martín Demichelis in particular, did not always help the youngsters.

Gary Cahill’s volley made it 3-1 after a poor clearance from Fernando and the game had become a damage-limitation exercise for City by the time Eden Hazard whipped a free-kick past Willy Caballero midway through the second half. Caballero, an erratic mix of good and bad, saved Oscar’s penalty but another of Chelsea’s substitutes, Bertrand Traoré, completed the scoring with a looping header late on and the second half was typified by the moment at the end when Chelsea counterattacked again. Already 5-1 down, their opponents had one defender back.

For City, perhaps it might have been less of an ordeal if Faupala had made more of the game’s first opportunity, having beaten a couple of players with a promising run. Faupala, a 19-year-old striker, joined City in July after running down his contract at Lens and was a tricky opponent for Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic even if the Frenchman’s goal did have a considerable element of good fortune.

Kelechi Iheanacho, a comparative veteran of seven starts, cut in through the right-hand channel and slid a left-footed centre across the six-yard penalty area. Thibaut Courtois could manage only the faintest of touches and when César Azpilicueta, covering from right-back, tried to slice it clear Faupala was maybe closer to him than he perhaps realised, diverting the ball into an exposed net and, inexcusably, being the target of several coins as he celebrated in front of the home end.

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Otherwise, there were only sporadic moments for City to reflect upon with any kind of satisfaction. Manu García, an 18-year-old Spaniard, will have enjoyed the moment he dropped his shoulder and left Cesc Fàbregas behind and Adarabioyo, a tall, rangy centre-half with a high-kneed running style, should be better for the experience of facing an in-form Costa. Yet City were terribly vulnerable in defence and generous opponents for Hazard, in particular.

The Belgian, fiercely criticised for his performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, provided the cross for Costa to head in the opening goal and it was his precise pass that Willian put away at the start of the second half. It was also Hazard’s cross that led to Cahill’s goal and Chelsea will be glad to see him playing with confidence again. Now he just has to show he can do it against a side that is not essentially made up of youth-team players.

Man of the match Eden Hazard (Chelsea)


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