Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester City will face off on Sunday in the biggest clash of the fifth round of the FA Cup tournament.
Citizens were unsuccessful in their appeal to the FA to reschedule their FA Cup fixture with Chelsea to Saturday, meaning they get one less day to rest before they travel to Ukraine to take on Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League in midweek. A couple of days after that, they take on Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini confirmed that he had no choice but to play a weakened team against the Blues, especially since a number of senior players were already out injured. “We have to play Champions League on Wednesday, so we’ll see what will be the best team we can put on the pitch for the FA Cup.
“The priority is the next game but maybe we are going to make an exception now because of the amount of players we have injured.” – Pellegrini
Kickoff: 21 February, Sunday – 16:00 GMT (21:30 IST)
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Chelsea head coach Guus Hiddink is targeting the FA Cup with other trophies and a top-four spot seemingly out of reach for the time being. And he confirmed that club captain John Terry would not be fit for the game on Sunday.
Terry tried to train but the hamstring injury that saw him being taken off against Newcastle will keep him out at least until the next Premier League game on 27 February against Southampton.
Colombian flop Radamel Falcao is still on the list of injured players while new signings Alexandre Pato and Matt Miazga are close to gaining full fitness after their January moves.
Manchester City: On the other hand, Pellegrini does not have many players to choose from. A long injury list includes the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Fabian Delph, Wilfried Bony, Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala. With the crucial Champions League Round of 16 tie and the Capital One Cup final to follow, Pellegrini will play a new-look side at the Bridge.
Manu Garcia, who started twice in the League Cup, could be handed a FA Cup debut while youth summer signing Aleix Garcia could be handed his full debut. Bersant Celina could also be handed a start in the cup tie.
Chelsea: Begovic, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Rahman, Matic, Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Willian, Hazard, Costa
Manchester City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Demichelis. Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernando, M Garcia, A Garcia, Celina, Sterling, Iheanacho
During Champions League clash against PSG Chelsea have lost their first game with Hiddink in charge.
Before that loss, Hiddink’s side were undefeated in 11 matches in all competitions but that streak included six draws. The draws have hurt the London side as they have been unable to get out of the bottom half of the Premier League table, currently lying in 12th place – 14 points from fourth place
Last 5 matches: W-D-D-W-L (Last match: PSG 2-1 Chelsea)
Citizens were considered title favourites at the start of the season when Chelsea shot themselves in the foot. But a lack of wins against sides in the top six has seen the Sky Blues fall to fourth – six points behind league leaders Leicester City.
Consecutive losses to the Foxes and Tottenham at the Etihad has seen the club reach a new low this season, staying in fourth place only because their derby rivals have not capitalised on their downfall.
Last 5 matches: W-W-W-L-L (Last match: Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur)
Key stats, Facts & battle
Last time when Dutch manager Hiddink was in charge of Chelsea as interim boss, he led them to the FA Cup in 2009.
Blues have lost 3-0 to City when the two sides met in the Premier League at the start of the season.
Belgium international forward Eden Hazard has scored just one goal this season – a penalty against MK Dons in the previous round.
Kelechi Iheanacho has scored 9 goals this season in all competitions – four of which have come in the FA Cup. He scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Aston Villa in a 4-0 win.
Kelechi Iheanacho vs Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic
The 19-year-old Manchester City striker has come into his own this season and gives hope to City with respect to bringing players through their academy and into the senior team. He has come off the bench and scored crucial goals on a few occasions this season and Pellegrini will be hoping he will fire in the FA Cup while he rests Sergio Aguero for the two games that follow.
On the other hand, Cahill had been sidelined in favour of young Kurt Zouma who partnered Terry in central defence. But with both defenders now injured, it will be up to him and make-shift centre-back Ivanovic to keep the Nigerian at bay.
Kelechi Iheanacho has scored 9 goals this season
Diego Costa vs Martin Demichelis
Although the Brazil-born Spanish striker had a terrible start to the season, things have looked up since Hiddink took charge. Since Christmas, Costa has scored eight goals and set up five assists. He scored the all-important equaliser against Manchester United and has also tracked back to help out in defence.
Demichelis has been in and out of the squad and was reportedly on the verge of a move to Argentina in January before Vincent Kompany’s injury problems required the Argentine defender’s services. If Costa gets time and space, his pace on the ball may be too much for the 35-year-old centre-back to handle.
Predicted score: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City