Chelsea take on Manchester City in the FA Cup fifth round this weekend as Guus Hiddink looks to win the competition as the Blues’ interim boss just as he did in his first spell at the helm in 2009 (4pm Sunday live on BBC1).
Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of Chelsea’s Champions League round of 16 tie was the first time Hiddink has suffered defeat since taking the reins at Stamford Bridge in mid-December. The champions have improved massively since the Dutchman’s installation in the dugout, with the performances against Crystal Palace, MK Dons, Arsenal and Newcastle United among the best Chelsea have produced all season long.
Hiddink has coaxed major improvements from some of the side’s under-performing players, including Cesc Fabregas (pictured), Diego Costa and Branislav Ivanovic. The form of Eden Hazard remains a concern, however – the Belgium international is virtually unrecognisable from the man who scooped both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards last time out – with his only goal this season coming from the penalty spot in the FA Cup fourth round thrashing of Championship strugglers MK Dons. With Pedro impressing against Newcastle last weekend, Oscar fully fit once more and Willian continuing to excel, Hazard could face a battle to retain his place in the starting XI after a particularly poor showing against PSG.
Manchester City also go into this weekend’s game on the back of a defeat, with Tottenham Hotspur triumphing at the Etihad Stadium last weekend to leave City six points adrift of the summit of the top flight. There is little doubt that the two-time Premier League champions have underperformed massively this year. Despite spending £150 million in the summer, Man City will probably not win the title or the Championship League, with the two domestic cups providing the best chance of silverware.
It has been suggested that the club’s announcement that Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini as manager next season has derailed City, but the vast majority of the problems they have encountered in recent weeks are merely a continuation of what went before earlier in the campaign. Although there is plenty left to play for on all fronts, it will take a big effort for City to turn things around in 2015/16.
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Central defenders John Terry (hamstring) and Kurt Zouma (knee) and striker Radamel Falcao (groin) are unavailable for selection for the hosts, but January signings Matt Miazga and Alexandre Pato could be involved for the first time.
Pellegrini has already admitted he will rotate his squad, meanwhile, with Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva all likely to either be on the bench or left out of the matchday squad. Fabian Delph (calf), Jesus Navas (hamstring), Kevin De Bruyne (knee) and Samir Nasri (hamstring) are all definitely out, but Wilfried Bony (calf), Eliaquim Mangala (hamstring) and Bacary Sagna could be fit to play a part.
Youngsters Bersant Celina, Angelino, Manu Garcia, Aleix Garcia and Cameron Humphreys could also be involved, while Kelechi Iheanacho is likely to start the match after his hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Aston Villa in the previous round helped Man City reach this stage of the tournament.
Because the visitors look set to rest a number of key players as they prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League encounter with Dynamo Kiev and look ahead to the continuation of their Premier League title bid next weekend, Chelsea are rightly considered favourites to triumph at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon. With little to play for in the Premier League and a tricky task awaiting them in the second leg of their own Champions League clash with PSG in three weeks’ time, Chelsea’s best chance of salvaging something positive from their dreadful season is in the FA Cup, making them worth backing to win this weekend.