Manuel Pellegrini is on a collision course with the Football Association after Manchester City’s FA Cup tie against Chelsea was moved to just three days before the club’s Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev.
City manager Pellegrini had warned that he would select an under-strength City team for the fifth round trip to Stamford Bridge if the English game’s governing body and television networks didn’t bow to his scheduling demands.
With City due to play the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev in the Ukraine on February 24, Pellegrini would have preferred to play the Chelsea match on the Friday 19 or Saturday 20.
But the FA and the BBC, who will show the match live, decided Sunday 21 was the only possible date to stage the tie.
The situation was complicated because Chelsea’s neighbours Fulham play in the Championship at 1500 GMT on the Saturday and police would be unwilling to sanction another kick-off close to that time.
Moving it to the Friday would also have run the risk of complaints from Chelsea who play in the Champions League themselves at Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday 16.
A statement from the BBC read: “Despite continued efforts to schedule Manchester City’s FA Cup fifth-round visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, conflicting fixtures and safety concerns meant this was not possible, so Sunday was the only slot available.”
Pellegrini, aware that City are due to face Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley the following weekend, made it clear he is willing to sacrifice the FA Cup by sending out a young team against Chelsea to spare his stars the draining effects of travel and fatigue in such a critical week.
– ‘Very worried’ –
“I’m very worried for a lot of things. First and foremost, if we have to play that game on that Sunday, we will not play with our (full-strength) team, we will play with a young team,” Pellegrini told reporters before the decision was made on Friday.
“We have to travel to Ukraine on Monday, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t play on the Saturday. Chelsea play their Champions League game on the Tuesday before.
“So if we have to play on the Sunday, we will have to see which players will have to play.
“I don’t want to analyse why, but I think if we have to play against Chelsea four days before, we should play on the Saturday.”
In his three seasons at City, Pellegrini has usually fielded strong teams in the domestic knockout cups.
But with City still alive in four competitions this term, Pellegrini feels he will have to prioritise and the FA Cup is evidently last on his list.
“If we play on the Sunday, we have to put Manchester City’s interests first. For me, I must do what I feel is best for the club, to play with the strongest team we can in the Champions League,” he said.
“Also, if we continue in the FA Cup, we will have to postpone two Premier League games (later in the season), and there is no option to play those games in midweek.”