Bridge of sighs for City's young guns
Chelsea 5-1 Man City
Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30
It was men against boys in the end, just as the teamsheet suggested it would be, but while Chelsea booked their place in the FA Cup sixth round, Manchester City's teenage rookies at least made the fallen Premier League champions earn it.
Cesc Fabregas reminded us of his ability to produce champagne football and Eden Hazard showed flashes of his former self, but City's kids did enough to justify their manager's decision to select them, despite suffering the club's heaviest defeat since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's takeover in September 2008.
There are two sides to the debate over whether Manuel Pellegrini disrespected the competition by handing five of the club's brightest young talents a first competitive start at Stamford Bridge. Others have conserved their resources in similar fashion this season, with Jurgen Klopp fielding even less experienced Liverpool teams prior to their fourth-round elimination, but David Faupala, Manu Garcia and the Manchester-born Tosin Adarabioyo all distinguished themselves for City as Chelsea ultimately secured a comfortable victory.
City and their youngsters at least emerged with pride intact, unlike those Chelsea supporters in the Matthew Harding Stand whose sour reaction to Faupala's first-half equaliser resulted in the 19-year-old and his team-mates being showered with coins as they celebrated.
Chelsea were quick to condemn those responsible, insisting that any culprits identified would be banned from Stamford Bridge, but when a teenager scoring on his debut cannot celebrate the moment safely, the game has bigger problems than a manager choosing to rest his senior players.
While Pellegrini and his squad prepare to fly to Ukraine this afternoon for Wednesday's Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Dynamo Kiev - the reason for the Chilean's decision to field a weakened team yesterday - Chelsea can now contemplate a sixth-round trip to Everton and the genuine prospect of silverware in the FA Cup.
With City's Premier League title hopes dented by back-to-back defeats at home to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, the FA Cup appeared a better route to success, but Pellegrini chose to hand full debuts to Adarabioyo, Faupala, Bersant Celina, Manu Garcia and Aleix Garcia.
Hiddink, having seen his players suffer a 2-1 Champions League first-leg defeat away to Paris Saint-Germain last Tuesday, went with a full-strength team, and they finally hit their stride when Fabregas instigated the move for Diego Costa's opener on 35 minutes.
Fabregas's lobbed ball into the penalty area found Hazard, who hooked a cross back towards Costa. Having escaped the attentions of Martin Demichelis, Costa scored with a low, diving header past goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
It should have been the moment for Chelsea to pull away, but City displayed their resolve by equalising within two minutes. Good work between Manu Garcia, Iheanacho and Faupala resulted in the latter scoring from six yards after Cesar Azpilicueta's clearance fell into his path.
Faupala raced away to celebrate, only to be pelted with coins by Chelsea supporters. Fortunately, the City players were not hit by the flying missiles. They had landed a blow, but they had a further 45 minutes to hold out and against such experienced opponents, would their physical and mental energies be able to withstand such an examination?
Inevitably, they could not and Chelsea's class told as Hiddink's players raced through the gears, picking holes in the City line-up with Fabregas, Hazard and Willian all punishing Pellegrini's team with their attacking qualities.
Willian restored Chelsea's lead on 48 minutes with a stunning breakaway goal. Having sprinted from his own half, the Brazilian laid the ball off to Hazard before receiving a return pass inside the area. With the goal opening up, Willian guided the ball past Caballero and into the far corner.
City were now forced to mount a rearguard action as Chelsea continued to pour forward and Gary Cahill extended the home side's lead on 53 minutes when he struck from 12 yards after Fernando had attempted to clear Hazard's cross.
As City began to buckle, Demichelis conceded a free-kick with a clumsy challenge on Hazard. Twenty yards out, Hazard placed the ball and picked his spot to score his first goal at Stamford Bridge since last season, thanks in no small part to Caballero's inexplicable decision to dive behind his wall, rather than in the direction of the Belgian's free-kick.
At 4-1, Chelsea were cruising and City faced with damage limitation - a challenge intensified when referee Andre Marriner awarded the home side a 75th-minute penalty following Demichelis challenge on Bertrand Traoré.
Oscar, rather than Hazard, stepped up for the penalty, which was saved by Caballero.
Yet just as City appeared set to avoid further damage, Chelsea landed a final blow on 89 minutes when Traoré's header from Oscar's cross bounced in off the far post. Once again, Caballero could have done better, and Pellegrini will hope he does not have to rely on Joe Hart's understudy too often.
As for the kids, they all showed signs of promise, but ultimately they were just too young and raw to live with Chelsea. (© Independent News Service)
FA Cup quarter-final draw
Reading v Crystal Palace
Everton v Chelsea
Arsenal or Hull City v Watford
Shrewsbury Town or Manchester United v West Ham United