It is impossible to determine what must be going through the minds of the Manchester City players at the moment.
Do they pull all the stops and beat Chelsea to advance to the next round of the FA Cup in what could as well be the only trophy they will win this season, or should they just continue being as passive and lethargic as they have been in recent games?
Whichever it is, I really don’t envy Manuel Pellegrini, because it probably doesn’t matter anyway. He’s out at the end of the season and you probably want to imagine he also has at the back of his mind. Maybe like his players, he has also been quite passive knowing he’s gone either way. Win or lose, he’s out the door, so maybe he doesn’t even care.
A similar argument could be made for the Chelsea players and manager. They know Guus Hiddink won’t be sticking around, no matter what happens, win or lose. So maybe they will also choose to be passive and play out the rest of the season.
But that is just about where the comparisons end. The Chelsea players knew from the beginning Hiddink wasn’t lasting beyond the season, but given their horrendous start to the current Premier League season which saw them 16th and just a point off the relegation places by the time Jose Mourinho was fired, one can imagine they know they must win something to have any shade of success attached to their season.
With a place in the top-four seemingly unrealistic, and with their 2-1 loss to PSG in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, the FA Cup just about presents the only form of real success they can lay claim to this season and you can bet the players understand that.
It is not quite the same for Manchester City, who know a place in the top-four which guarantees Champions League football for next season will be gauged as a success, with or without the FA Cup win. So where does that leave Pellegrini?
He knows he’s out irrespective of how he ends the season and like I mentioned earlier, he probably can afford not to be too interested, after all, everybody at the club is already envisaging next season with Pep Guardiola in charge.
But yet, Pellegrini knows he must leave on a high. His future from here on out could be decided by how City ends the season and the FA Cup represents the biggest opportunity to leave with a medal hanging around his neck (they are in the League Cup semifinals too), which could in turn, earn him another big job almost immediately.
That is not to say he won’t get any big jobs if he doesn’t win, but having been constantly referred to as the ‘lame duck manager’ recently, he might want to shed that tag before Guardiola takes charge and what better way to do that than to beat Chelsea and aim for the FA Cup
Of course, they’re also in the Champions League round of 16, but how many of you will bet on them winning that? Yeah, just what I thought.
Pellegrini also knows it won’t be an easy task, as the Premier League champions will aim to get back at them, having stopped them from progressing in 2013 and 2014. He has claimed he will field youngsters in the tie, with their trip to Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League at the back of his mind, but the last thing he would want is a replay, as that will mean more fixture pile-up.
As much as he considers the Champions League a higher priority, he must also realize and consider the FA Cup a more realistic prospect (after the League Cup). If he must leave City with that medal around his neck, he must realize the importance of winning this particular FA Cup tie because even if he goes on to win the League Cup, it may as well be seen as him leaving without a parting shot.