On Saturday, needing a victory against Chelsea for psychological reasons, Manuel Pellegrini made three courageous decisions in the FA Cup 5th Round. Jose Mourinho’s mastery of Pellegrini required the Chilean to get one over on his Portuguese rival on this occasion. City won 2-0 on Saturday but only after the manager shook up his side with several changes.
Manchester City was dominated less than two weeks earlier in the league by the same Chelsea side on the same pitch, thus Pellegrini made several controversial changes for this outing. Javi Garcia was inserted in central midfield where James Milner played versus Norwich while Milner was pushed forward in place of Jesus Navas who has given two consecutive subpar efforts as the Citizens have dropped points in the league.
Perhaps most controversially, Joleon Lescott was recalled from a long exile to partner with Vincent Kompany at the heart of City’s defense. The recall of Lescott sent panic waves through many supporters when the team sheet was announced, but the Englishman ended up turning in an exceptional performance.
Stevan Jovetic was preferred to Edin Dzeko on this occasion and he rewarded his manager’s faith with an exceptional finish though his fitness levels dropped as the game wore on and he had to be subbed off midway through the second half.
The Citizens redemption was a full team effort, but the influence of Garcia and Milner was particularly important. The Spanish holding midfielder has been far from a fan favorite during his time at the Etihad but he proved on Saturday he can put in a really good shift against top opposition. Garcia controlled the midfield with ease allowing Yaya Toure to push forward and help stimulate the Citizens attack.
Milner’s industry and creativity on the right side of midfield was critical to City’s success in the attacking end. In the loss to Chelsea on February 3, Jesus Navas completed fewer than 30% of his crosses and his set-piece distribution left little to be desired. Milner, who was recovering from a groin pull in that match, was available for spot duty but was unused as Pellegrini’s men tried chasing the game without changing shape. It was a catastrophic decision not to use Milner late on as Navas’ giveaways ended several promising Citizens attacking moves.
Manchester City’s win means they will face club legend Uwe Rosler’s Wigan Athletic side in the quarterfinals. This will be a rematch of last season’s Wembley final that was contested when both sides had different managers. Citizen supporters are sure to be sentimental about the return of Rosler, the most recent addition to the club’s Hall of Fame.
Here’s a YouTube clip of Rosler’s goal he scored for City in the 1996 Manchester derby:
Editor’s note: For the latest Citizens news, analysis and opinion, visit the Manchester City team page.