Chelsea cruised into the FA Cup quarterfinals thanks to a 5-1 win over a vastly under strength Manchester City team at Stamford Bridge. In itself, the victory against a City team featuring five debutantes may be nothing to write home about. But the performance of Eden Hazard was certainly something to savor.
It has been a wretched season for the man who won double player-of-the-year honors in 2014-2015, scoring a solitary goal and registering only two assists in all competitions coming into Sunday's fixture. But he got back somewhere close to his best on Sunday, setting up goals either side of halftime for Diego Costa and Willian, before, after Gary Cahill had effectively made the result safe, scoring one of his own from a free kick.
Just days after an anonymous display in a first-leg defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, which followed much-criticized comments suggesting he would quite fancy a move to the French champions, this was the perfect response. The fifth-round victory, given a final flourish by a late goal from Bertrand Traore, keeps Chelsea very much in the hunt for a trophy to salvage their disastrous season. It also means Guus Hiddink has a chance to repeat his feat of winning the FA Cup for Chelsea as an interim manager, just as he did in 2009.
In contrast, Manuel Pellegrini’s hopes of ending his final season in charge with the FA Cup have now gone by the wayside. But it was a defeat he all-but conceded with a lineup that made clear the priority was firmly on the Champions League and a first leg Round-of-16 match at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday.
In what proved to be the Chilean’s final FA Cup match as Manchester City manager, he made 10 changes to his selection, with only four players—Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Martin Demichelis and Fernando—featuring who have played with any kind of regularity in the Premier League this season. With several of those selected sporting squad numbers in the 60s and 70s, many Manchester City fans may well have been checking their smart phones for information on their teams starting XI.
There was, though, some early optimism for the visiting Manchester City supporters. One of the debutantes, David Faupala, tested Thibaut Courtois with a fine shot from 20 yards in the opening minutes. Chelsea began to make their experience count, hitting the post through Pedro and then going in front in the 35th minute when a one-two between Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard allowed the latter to cross for Costa to head home. But City showed some initial resistance and hit back just two minutes later when Faupala got his name on the score sheet. The 19-year-old France youth international was rewarded when, following a cross from strike partner Kelechi Iheanacho, he blocked a slack clearance from Cesar Azpilicueta into the Chelsea net.
But from then onward it was one-way traffic. Within three minutes of the second half, Chelsea were back in front. A quick break was led by Willian, before a one-two with Hazard allowed him to burst in behind a City defensive line holding a poor line on the edge of their own box and drive low past Willy Caballero.
A third goal would soon arrive, when Gary Cahill confidently slammed the ball home after Hazard’s cross had deflected off Fernando. The pick of the bunch, though, came from Hazard. The Chelsea No. 10 curled a free-kick into the far corner of the net with expert precision, even if Caballero far from covered himself in glory when taking several steps across his goal behind the wall.
The scoreline could have been more emphatic. Oscar chipped a tame penalty that Caballero repelled after another Chelsea substitute Traore was bumped over in the box by Demichelis. But, assisted by a cross from Oscar, Traore would make it three goals in his last three appearances for Chelsea when flicking on with his head and finding the far corner of the net.