Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink spoke up for the FA Cup as “the temple of football” after his side crushed a virtually unrecognisable Manchester City 5-1 to reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The Dutchman, who celebrated the final day of his first temporary stint at the Stamford Bridge helm by lifting the trophy after beating Everton 2-1 in the 2009 final, sent out a full-strength side to dismantle a youthful City.
While his counterpart Manuel Pellegrini rested a clutch of top names such as Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling and handed out five senior debuts, Hiddink had clearly set his sights on another memorable Wembley afternoon in May.
He had some sympathy for clubs such as City who were chasing silverware on four fronts, but warned: “We mustn’t forget the tradition of English football.
“I remember watching the FA Cup as a youngster on TV, it’s the temple of football. Winning the FA Cup is beautiful worldwide. We must be careful not to devalue it.
“On one hand, the programme for many clubs is rather harsh; on the other hand, you can play every three or four days, especially if your squad is broad quality-wise.”
On Saturday, holders Arsenal also left out top names in their 0-0 draw with second-tier Hull City, who themselves rotated their squad, while another Premier League team Bournemouth also fielded a much-changed side that lost to Everton.
The record books will show only a hefty Chelsea win — a predictable outcome after Pellegrini decided on wholesale changes with Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Dynamo Kiev and next Sunday’s League Cup final versus Liverpool looming.
Second-half goals from Willian, Gary Cahill, an impressive Eden Hazard and Bertrand Traore underlined the gulf in experience as a City side containing six teenagers buckled.
Yet for a while, when 19-year-old debutant David Faupala cancelled out Diego Costa’s headed opener, City provided stern resistance.
“We knew we would play against a team with some changes but it’s not easy when youngsters are coming in,” Hiddink, whose team are away to Everton in the last eight, told reporters.
“They had a back four with experienced players, and youngsters in midfield and attack.
Pellegrini defended his selection, saying fixture congestion and injuries to first-team players gave him no choice, and suggested that they should have been scheduled to play a day earlier so they would have been better prepared for Kiev.
“If we play on Saturday, it’s better for us because we have to play for England in the Champions League on Wednesday so it’s better for England,” he told reporters.