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Football
Pellegrini throws FA Cup out of the window and his players under a bus... but youngsters at least provide a silver lining
2016-02-23
NEWS_IMG
The Chilean not only wrote off the FA Cup but also the chances of his youngsters being able to pull off a result at Stamford Bridge, but his real tests are still to come
This was a strange afternoon for Manchester City. Not often have the fans been overly proud of their players this season, not often - perhaps ever - has Manuel Pellegrini had to do so much touchline coaching, and never has a resounding 5-1 defeat been so readily accepted.This was, after all, "not a real game". City youngsters, five lads making their full debuts, were not given much of a chance by anybody. Including their own manager. Pellegrini set the bar low when he made it clear he would sacrifice the FA Cup in order to maximise City's chances of Champions League progression and League Cup success. A fusion of talented but untested teenagers and first-teamers not good enough to start a Champions League clash in three days were never expected to beat Chelsea. Their manager didn't even expect them to keep it close."I think it's not a real game, of course," Pellegrini said in the build-up. "We told them one week ago that we are going to play with a young team. If the people want to continue going to the stadium or Chelsea fans will enjoy that game, I don't know."A manager who has so skilfully evaded even the most testing questions, who has rightly been praised for his handling of the difficult Pep Guardiola situation, not only threw the FA Cup out of the window but his own players under the bus.The Chilean, in a bad mood about the match's scheduling, effectively said he was forced to show up. It was hardly a glowing show of faith in the young players he was employed to nurture back in 2013. There have been times when Pellegrini's interactions with the press have suggested he does not have much of a handle on goings on below first-team level, and he has been criticised for not giving youth a chance.He did so here in one fell swoop as he tried to combat a growing injury list. He may not have expected much of them, but the young guns did Manchester City proud.Manu Garcia, 18, and Bersant Celina, 19, had previously been afforded precious first-team minutes, the former scoring on his home debut in the League Cup and the latter setting up Sergio Aguero minutes into his Premier League debut. But even they had less than an hour's senior football between them.Aleix Garcia, 18, had only begun training with the seniors at the start of February, Tosin Adarabioyo, also 18, had been named on the bench in two Champions League group games back in October but had not even been in a senior match day squad since then, while French striker David Faupala, 19, had barely made a name for himself in City's Elite Development Squad.It was incredible for all five to be handed senior debuts, not least as Chelsea named the exact same XI which had battled their way to a 2-1 Champions League defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, one of Europe's finest teams. It took a great deal of effort to get in level at half-time, with Faupala bundling home as unlikely a first senior goal as you will ever see, just moments after Diego Costa had eluded the dreadful Maritn Demichelis to open the scoring.While the home side quickly asserted their dominance after the break, Garcia, Kelechi Iheanacho and Faupala combined to force an early save from Thibaut Courtois. There was enough evidence to suggest that Pellegrini was right to trust these lads - if trust is the right word.Manu Garcia, in an unfamiliar right-sided role, showed the slight of foot which has earned comparisons to David Silva, gliding past Cesc Fabregas with the minimum of effort on one occasion. Aleix Garcia sat deeper, not quite able to show off his expansive passing, now cowed by the star-studded opposition. Adarabioyo, the centre-back born in Manchester, stood up to Diego Costa and put his body on the line, though he would later lament a poor use of the ball.Faupala grabbed that goal, his first in senior football having left Ligue 2 side Lens in the summer, while Celina had one of his quieter games as Chelsea focused their efforts on the opposite flank.There were individual moments to be proud of and the effort that went into taking a 1-1 scoreline into the break cannot be taken for granted. Pellegrini, clearly recognising the work he had to do, was up on the touchline gesturing and shouting and dragging his young charges into position. It was a performance worthy of respect. Alas, Chelsea flew out of the traps in the second half and pulled away from their plucky - an overused word in sports reporting - opponents. Willian and Gary Cahill crashed in low efforts within eight minutes of the restart and it looked like they may even ease up. They didn't. Not when Eden Hazard is looking to get his season going, and the Belgian curled in a free kick for just his second goal of the season. Willy Caballero saved an Oscar penalty - conceded by Demichelis - but Bertrand Traore finished off the rout in farcical circumstances when the ball rebounded off the back of his head and looped into the net.Brandon Barker also made his debut in the second half, while Cameron Humphreys, another local defender, saw senior action for the second time. But Pellegrini had stopped the gesticulating by this point and he merely sat in his chair waiting for full-time and a chance to put things right.Because whether his big gamble pays off is yet to be seen. He himself expected to lose this match, and he has justified his reasons for sacrificing the FA Cup. With a number of fans unhappy with the result (it could have been worse), what comes next is the acid test for the City boss.A Champions League last-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev is City's best chance of going further in the competition than ever, and the result of the League Cup final next week will shape the narrative. Casual observers suggest Pellegrini's men have taken their eye off the ball since he announced he will leave the club this summer, but in truth the results have been patchy since their blistering start to the season petered out.They have not won back-to-back games since October and have, with defeat here, now lost three on the bounce for the first time in five years. Pellegrini always pointed to the fact that his team were alive in all four competitions, but they are clinging for dear life in the title race and are now out of the FA Cup. He will not care about the latter, but if the next two matches do not yield victories - or at least an away goal in Kiev - his plans will have backfired.City fans will travel back from London disgruntled at the manner of the defeat but surely proud that their youngsters, the lads charged with bringing success to the club in the future, did themselves proud. Long-term success, though, is not Pellegrini's concern.