Pellegrini making big mistake if he fields kids, says Neil Humphreys
If City boss plays kids against Chelsea, he'll lose a cup he can win
CHELSEA v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 11.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - ELEVEN)
Listening to the world's wealthiest football club whine about fixture congestion is like a billionaire complaining that his garage isn't big enough for his Ferrari collection.
Sympathy is in short supply.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has the moral high ground when it comes to his sacking, but moaning about the FA Cup game against Chelsea will not curry favour.
With a dash of petulance, the Chilean has promised to field a weakened side at Stamford Bridge tomorrow, which looks a huge misstep at such a pivotal stage of the season.
City's brittle campaigners are theoretically chasing four trophies, but have a decent shot at winning only one and are an outside bet of landing two.
There is more chance of Pellegrini walking on the moon than there is of him winning either Champions League or English Premier League silverware.
In theory, he can. In theory, an elephant can hang from a cliff with its tail tied to a daisy. But the sobering reality is somewhat different and Pellegrini is at risk of tarnishing his legacy by allowing the heart to rule the head.
The temptation to stick it to the faceless axe men in the boardroom must be overwhelming. What better way to defy one's insensitive paymasters than to win the Champions League before being sacked?
It's the definitive two-fingered salute to the shameless suits and few would deny Pellegrini such a splendid moment of anarchic defiance.
But it's not going to happen. City's season is only a defeat or two away from unravelling.
Consecutive home losses against Leicester and Tottenham betrayed a ponderous side. They were lost, leaderless and practically motionless. With Pellegrini on his way, there must be less incentive to listen.
Only zombies follow a dead man walking.
Since the Pep Guardiola announcement, City have lacked inspiration on both sides of the touchline. Yaya Toure once ran through walls for his teammates. Now he seems to be running towards the US to cash in his MLS retirement policy.
For a side supposedly chasing silver pots everywhere, Pellegrini's patched-up peacocks are worryingly reliant on the singular talent of Sergio Aguero. Nothing scares the City faithful more than the sight of Aguero (below) clutching his leg.
Their season pretty much hangs on the Argentinian's precarious hamstrings.
So Pellegrini's plan to call upon the second-stringers is fraught with danger. Apart from Aguero, Fernandinho, Toure and even David Silva are reportedly expected to huddle together on the bench at Chelsea.
The FA Cup tie comes just three days before the Champions League last-16 encounter with Dynamo Kiev and a week before they meet Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley.
But that match isn't a priority for Pellegrini. His overriding obsession is the Champions League. It's the one that keeps getting away. It's the one he was signed to win.
And the progress is self-evident. Pellegrini inherited an underachieving, schizophrenic squad that won domestic titles but exited the Champions League group stages. He has led them to the last 16.
But it's not enough, not now. Pellegrini won't go gently into that long, European night. He wants to shine in the continental shop window before he leaves.
His preoccupation with the Champions League, along with his legitimate grievance with the FA Cup scheduling, convinces him to play a bold hand he doesn't have.
City's options are already limited. The squad may not yet be down to their bare bones, but the vultures are circling. Fabian Delph, Kevin de Bruyne, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and Bacary Sagna are already out and Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala are not considered reliable reinforcements.
With City's season at a critical juncture, this isn't the time to call in the prepubescent cavalry. Apart from the lively Kelechi Iheanacho, the kids may not cope in the Stamford Bridge cauldron, particularly one currently governed by a coach with a soft spot for the old pot.
Guus Hiddink loves the FA Cup. The 2009 triumph was a timely asterisk to add to his resume. He won't disrespect the trophy tomorrow. He knows how much it's worth.
But Pellegrini can't see straight. He's wearing Champions League blinkers, preoccupied with a tournament he cannot win and Ukrainian opponents who haven't played a competitive match since early December.
Even a defeat in Kiev wouldn't be a disaster, with the second leg still to come at the Etihad Stadium next month.
But the City faithful would find a loss at Stamford Bridge most unpalatable because, at this stage, it seems so avoidable.
If Pellegrini recognises the significance of the FA Cup, then this could be the beginning of a memorable week for City.
If he doesn't, then it could be the beginning of the end.
We have just 13 players available — we have to play Champions League on Wednesday — we’ll see about the best team we can play on Sunday. Young players have the option and they must take their chances. I hope with the team we play against Chelsea, they make the performance that we know they can.
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini
Terry blow for Blues
Chelsea captain John Terry is out of tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Manchester City with a hamstring injury, interim boss Guus Hiddink said yesterday.
Terry (above) missed Chelsea's 2-1 Champions League last-16, first-leg loss at Paris St Germain on Tuesday, with the problem suffered in last Saturday's Premier League win over Newcastle.
The 35-year-old skipper's next appearance will be his 700th for Chelsea, who maintain a contract offer might be forthcoming after Terry revealed he would be leaving Stamford Bridge when his current deal expires at the end of the season.
"He will not be fit for this weekend," Hiddink said.
"I saw him this morning. He was with the physios yesterday, trying a bit on the pitch.
"(But) still too many problems to be fit for the weekend."
Hiddink hopes Terry will be fit to play in the Feb 27 Premier League game at Southampton.
But Hiddink urged caution with Terry, who will be keen to return as soon as possible.
The Dutchman added: "We have a week. I hope next weekend he will be available.
"I cannot predict it. We have to be a bit cautious with him."
Hiddink refused to react to Roy Keane's withering critique of Eden Hazard.
The former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain told ITV this week: "If I were a teammate of his, I would kick him up and down the training pitch."
But Hiddink admitted Hazard, who has struggled for form this season after his influential role in the Premier League and League successes last season, needs to do more.
"I remember once he had a sprint on our right-hand side (against PSG)," Hiddink said.
"That's the old Hazard and we hope to see that more frequently.
"He's showing once, but he can show more. He's aware of that. Now it's up to him to step up."
Hazard on Monday, the eve of the Champions League tie, spoke of it being difficult to turn down a move to PSG, although he reiterated he was under contract until 2020.
Hiddink, who has had "small conversations" with Hazard, has no reason to suspect the Belgian is eyeing a move.
"He's very keen to be here, he's extended his contract, his family is happy here," Hiddink added. - PA Sport.