72, 51, 75, 76, 53. Those were the numbers on the backs of five players that Manuel Pellegrini put into Manchester City’s starting 11 in yesterday’s humiliation to Chelsea in the FA Cup. Pellegrini fielded a well understrength side while Chelsea didn’t. The result was a 5-1 defeat to the Chelsea.
After the match, there was talk that Pellegrini had disrespected the cup, by fielding such a squad. Pellegrini came out and defended his team selection, saying the young players need to play, and it’s important to keep his team in the Champions League. The latter is a good point, in fairness to Pellegrini. Manchester City has a game against Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday, and resting players before big Champions League games is common practice in Europe.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) February 21, 2016
While it’s likely that Pellegrini was simply resting players, the fact is they lost, and they lost by a substantial margin. City is now out of the FA Cup, and while they are still in contention for the League Cup, the Premier League, and the Champions league, they have not been playing well for a few weeks. The Premier League is a close race, but they are six points back, the League Cup can be won but it’s not the kind of trophy a top team sets season long expectations around. For Pellegrini, the Champions League might be the one competition that he can rally his team around and improve their form.
Since it was announced that Pellegrini was going to be replaced next season by Pep Guardiola, Manchester City has only managed to win one match. Now, to be clear, Pellegrini hasn’t quit on the team, nor is he trying to lose games on purpose. But since the revelation that he would be out of a job in the summer, it has seemingly become a distraction. Some teams handle distractions better than others, and there is still time for City to come to grips with the situation. That being said, there must be some part of Pellegrini’s mind that feels that making a deep run in the Champions League is his best chance to leave a legacy in Manchester.
Focusing on the Champions League seems like it’s going to be a priority for Pellegrini. Winning the tournament will be a tall task, but making a run at it might mean sacrificing a domestic competition or two. Personally, it seems silly to suggest that he disrespected the FA Cup by fielding an understrength team, especially when managers of big teams are judged so completely by what they do in Europe these days.
Pellegrini’s replacement is going to be judged in Munich by his success in Europe this season, whether that’s fair or not. Likewise, Pellegrini will go down in City history judged by what he’s done in the Champions League. If Leicester City wins the league this year it will go down in history as a remarkable achievement, if City makes a late surge and take the title it will have been expected of them. So given the need for prestige, or at the very least a better pay check at his next job, you can see why Pellegrini might be inclined to focus a little more on the Champions League.
— World Soccer Talk (@worldsoccertalk) February 20, 2016
Manchester City has been done no favors by the FA either. Scheduling their FA Cup match on a Sunday before their trip to Kyiv almost forces Pellegrini to heavily rotate. Given that most other countries in Europe give their European participants every luxury in Scheduling matches, it seems strange that the FA wouldn’t extend the same courtesy. I’m sure there are special TV requirements and other rules that the FA follows, but countries like Germany have strict rules in place to ensure that if a team is playing on Tuesday or Wednesday, that they wont have a league game scheduled any later than early Saturday.
Pellegrini is the manager of Manchester City, he might be a lame duck, but he’s still the one calling the shots. If he feels that resting players before a big game in Europe is necessary, then he’s going to make that choice. It’s not disrespectful. Pellegrini’s a manager who knows his best chance at immortality is in Europe. He’s never won the Champions League, and even though they’re far from favorites, City is probably his best chance to win it. He shouldn’t feel he owes anything to a club that seems so willing to cast him aside for something different. He can be excused if the Champions League is all that matters to him right now. He still has a chance for three trophies, and if one means a little more to him than the others, who can blame him? It’s the one he hasn’t won yet.