Chelsea punished Manuel Pellegrini’s controversial decision to field a remarkably inexperienced team as Eden Hazard inspired a 5-1 demolition of Manchester City 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, concerned that injury-hit City were in danger of being stretched to breaking point, the Chilean boss prioritised European success and next weekend’s League Cup final against Liverpool, admitting that he didn’t consider the Stamford Bridge showdown “a real game”.
Pellegrini had warned fans they wouldn’t get value for money because he would rest stars like Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure and he was true to his word as he fielded an unrecognisable starting line-up featuring six teenagers, five of whom were making their full debuts.
In contrast, Guus Hiddink, with the luxury of having played in the Champions League already this week, named his strongest available side and it was men against boys as they swept into the quarter-finals thanks to a pair of assists and a goal from Hazard.
Diego Costa put Chelsea ahead and, although David Faupala equalised for the visitors, second half goals from Willian, Gary Cahill, Hazard and Bertrand Traore handed City a third successive defeat.
Pellegrini will face accusations of disrespecting the FA Cup, but he won’t care about that if City can take a step towards the Champions League quarter-finals and win the League Cup this week.
French forward Faupala was one of City’s debutants and the 18-year-old showed no signs of being overawed when he left two defenders trailing in his wake before testing Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
After a slow start, Chelsea threatened when Pedro’s clipped shot bounced to safety off the far post.
City were competing well but Hiddink’s side broke the deadlock in the 35th minute.
Cesc Fabregas was the instigator with a deft flick that picked out Hazard’s run and the Belgian hooked a fine cross into the six yard box, where Costa dived forward to head past Willy Caballero for his 13th goal of the season.
But City’s youngsters showed a composure that belied their lack of experience as they hit back two minutes later.
Spanish midfielder Manu Garcia clipped a pass through for Kelechi Iheanacho, who got to the byline before crossing low for Faupala to poke home from close-range.
City’s youthful enthusiasm overflowed as they celebrated in front of Chelsea’s supporters, some of whom responded by throwing coins in an ugly echo of the incident that saw West Brom’s Chris Brunt pelted by his own fans 24 hours earlier.
Hiddink had won all six of his FA Cup ties in his two spells as Chelsea’s caretaker, a run that included leading the club to the trophy in 2009.
And Chelsea were back on course to extend that run in the 48th minute when Brazil winger Willian launched an incisive raid, picking out Hazard before racing past City’s statuesque defence to meet the Belgian’s return pass with an angled finish into the far corner.
Just five minutes later, Chelsea booked their quarter-final place as City were let down by their few senior players.
Fernando only half cleared to the edge of the area, where Cahill’s drive was straight at Caballero but still squirmed under the goalkeeper and into the net.
Hazard capped one of his few impressive performances this season when he curled a free-kick past Caballero in the 66th minute.
Caballero saved Oscar’s 74th minute penalty after Martin Demichelis barged into Traore, but Traore completed the rout in the 89th minute when his back header looped in at the far post.