Two Premier League giants will lock horns in a much-anticipated FA Cup fifth-round tie this weekend as Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge.
Guus Hiddink has good memories of the world’s oldest cup competition from his first spell as interim manager at Stamford Bridge and the Dutchman will be hoping to repeat history in what will likely be his last few months in the Chelsea hot seat.
His task will be made harder due to the absence of captain John Terry who will miss Sunday’s clash with the hamstring injury he suffered in last weekend’s 5-1 win over Newcastle United.
While the Blues haven’t been able to replicate their title-winning Premier League form from last season. this FA Cup tie might just go their way as Manuel Pellegrini looks to rest senior players on Sunday.
While Pellegrini has won the Premier League title and Capital One Cup at Manchester City, he hasn’t been able to land an FA Cup trophy during his tenure at the Etihad. With Pep Guardiola set to replace him in the summer, this will be his last opportunity to win the prestigious domestic cup competition.
The fixture schedule hasn’t been too kind to the Manchester City boss who has claimed that he wouldn’t be fielding his strongest side in the FA Cup tie. Some of Manchester City’s younger players like Bersant Celina and Manu Garcia might get a chance to showcase their skills against Chelsea.
“We have just 13 (senior) players available to play,” Pellegrini told the BBC. “We have to play Champions League on Wednesday. Young players have the option and they must take their chances.”
“For me the priority is always the next game but we must make an exception now because of so many injuries.”
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Manchester City have been strong in the FA Cup this season, beating Norwich City and Aston Villa 3-0 and 4-0 respectively so far. The Citizens have also seen off Chelsea’s challenge in this competition in their previous two meetings — the 2012-2013 semi-finals, and the 2013-2014 fifth round.
Hiddink was appointed as the interim manager for the second time after Chelsea’s ninth loss in 16 Premier League fixtures cost Jose Mourinho his job. Since the Dutchman took over on 19th December, the club haven’t registered a single loss in 10 games.
The last time Hiddink was appointed as interim manager at Stamford Bridge was in February 2009 after Luis Felipe Scolari was sacked. That year, he went on to win the FA Cup, and will surely be hoping for a similar run this season.
“I will make hardly any changes because we take the FA Cup very seriously,” Hiddink was quoted as saying by the BBC. “Winning the FA Cup is a prestigious prize in England but also worldwide.”
The Dutchman has won all five FA Cup games during his time at Chelsea. This season, he oversaw Chelsea’s progression into the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-0 victory over Scunthorpe United, followed by a 5-1 thrashing of MK Dons.
Chelsea have lost only once to Manchester City in 17 of their fixtures at Stamford Bridge, losing 4-2 in a Premier League clash in February 2010.
The Blues have always shown resilience at their home ground and this fixture won’t be any different for them, especially as Guus Hiddink is keen to win a trophy before he leaves the club for the final time this summer.
Chelsea have had ample rest after their Champions League Round of 16 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, and Hiddink will be looking to field his best XI against a relatively weak Manchester City side.
Iheanacho/Sterling v Courtois
Kelechi Iheanacho has been in great form in the FA Cup, scoring a hat-trick in their previous cup fixture against Aston Villa while helping Manchester City to a 4-0 win at Villa Park.
The Nigerian is having a breakthrough season at the Etihad, scoring nine goals and assisting a further four in his 21 appearances spread across the Premier League, the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup in 2015-16.
No team in the current Premier League top ten has conceded more goals than Chelsea this season, and if Iheanacho’s excellent form continues, Thibaut Courtois and his defence — led by Gary Cahill — may find themselves in deep trouble.
Raheem Sterling has a total of 11 goals and eight assists in 37 appearances for Manchester City in all competitions, and will look to use his pace and skills to trouble a relatively slow Chelsea back-four.
Costa v Hart/Caballero
It is quite possible that Caballero may start at Stamford Bridge instead of Joe Hart as Pellegrini is intent on resting a few key players before the Champions League clash this Wednesday.
Although Eden Hazard has failed to find the back of the net as often, Chelsea still have a talisman in Costa.
Diego Costa hasn’t been at his best this season but has been showing signs of recovery in recent games. In total, the Brazil-born Spain international has 12 goals in all competitions, and is once again the Blues’ top scorer this season.
Manchester City’s defence won’t be as impregnable in the absence of their captain Vincent Kompany, and it will not be a surprise to see Chelsea overpower the Citizens at home.
Fernando vs Matic
Manu Garcia and Aleix Garcia might get a chance to feature in the first-team against Chelsea, but the real battle in the midfield is going to be between Fernando and Matic.
Nemanja Matic missed out on the Champion League defeat against Paris Saint-Germain due to a ban, but will be holding Chelsea’s midfield in the fifth round clash against Manchester City.
In the absensce of Vincent Kompany, Fernando, who plays infront of the back four as a defensive mid, will have to be wary of Chelsea’s creative midfield, aided by the lethal finisher Costa.
This will be Matic’s first FA Cup appearance in the last two season for Chelsea, and he’s expected to shine in the absence of the towering Yaya Toure, who’s will most probably be rested for the Champions League clash this week.
Blast from the past
Manchester City and Chelsea came head to head in the 2012-2013 semi-final match of the FA Cup, where the Citizens defeated their opponents 2-1 at Wembley.
Strikes from Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri gave a dominant City squad passage to the final, where they went on to lose 1-0 to eventual winners Wigan Athletic in one of the biggest upsets in the recent history of the competition.