Pellegrini denies disrespecting FA Cup

Manuel Pellegrini (AFP)
Manuel Pellegrini (AFP)

London - Manuel Pellegrini refused to apologise for his controversial decision to field a team of youngsters after Manchester City were dumped out of the FA Cup with a 5-1 thrashing at Chelsea.

Pellegrini stood accused of disrespecting the famous old competition as he selected six teenagers, with five making their full debuts, and then watched them suffer City's heaviest defeat since their Abu Dhabi-based owners bought the club in 2008.

With City due to play their Champions League last 16 first leg tie at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday and then face Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday, Pellegrini felt forced to turn to his raw rookies because the FA had refused to listen to his plea to stage the fifth round tie on Saturday instead of bowing to television demands to play it on Sunday.

But, asked about his decision to effectively gift wrap Chelsea's quarter-final place, the City manager was unrepentant and insisted more should be done to help English clubs competing in the Champions League.

"I don't think I need to defend myself. We played two rounds before against Premier League teams and won by playing the best players we had at that moment," Pellegrini said.

"In England one of the most important things we must do is try to help the teams in the Champions League.

"If we have 20 fit players then maybe I can take the risk. It's important for young players to play.

"It's never good to lose 5-1, maybe it's not the best thing to put them in all together but we had no choice.

"If one team respects all the cups it's this team. That's why we are in the League Cup final."

After several seasons of underachievement in Europe, City have a good opportunity to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time and Pellegrini had no qualms about sacrificing the FA Cup to achieve that aim.

Success in Europe has been high on the to-do list of City's wealthy owners for years but Pellegrini, battling with injuries to 13 players at present, said the selection move was his alone.

"I always take the best decision," he said. "The Champions League is not more important than the FA Cup. Of course the FA Cup is special but we have several players injured.

"It was impossible to take the risk of playing our senior players in case another one gets injured.

"We have an option to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in the club's history.

"I think with 13 players not fully fit, my decision makes sense."

While Pellegrini has never won the FA Cup, Guus Hiddink knows the special feeling of lifting the trophy after leading Chelsea to victory in the 2009 final during his first spell as the Blues' interim manager.

Now back for a second spell as Chelsea's caretaker, Hiddink admitted it was unfortunate when teams of City's standing felt compelled to sacrifice the Cup in favour of chasing other trophies.

"The programme for many clubs is rather harsh, but when you have a squad of quality players you must not forget the tradition of English football," Hiddink said.

"Many people are focused on the FA Cup. Winning it is beautiful. We must be careful not to devalue this."

Hiddink's side will travel to Everton in the quarter-finals in a rerun of the final he won seven years ago.

The Dutchman would love to sign off with another Wembley victory and said Chelsea are targeting success in the cups after a poor season in the Premier League.

"There's not much left in the league for Chelsea," Hiddink said.

"I have good memories of the Cup but that is the past. Everton will remember that final as well and they will go for their revenge."

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