Held at the break by a City side that included four teenagers making their full debuts, Chelsea progressed comfortably towards a sixth-round visit to Everton after finding their momentum in the second half to establish a comfortable margin of victory that would have been even greater had Oscar not seen his penalty saved by Willy Caballero.
Pellegrini’s decision to place this competition a distant third as he prioritised his side’s three fixtures this week — City visit Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday and return to face Liverpool in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final — effectively gifted Hiddink the chance to successfully negotiate the latest obstacle in the Dutchman’s bid to salvage Chelsea’s season.
The first-half hiccup that allowed David Faulapa, an 18-year-old striker who has struggled to claim a regular starting spot for City’s U21 side, to equalise two minutes after Diego Costa’s 35th-minute opening goal was quickly forgotten when Willian, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard, and Bertrand Traore completed the win after the break.
It was an unsatisfying occasion and certainly not one that had been envisaged when the fifth-round draw paired last season’s Premier League champions with the runners-up. Pellegrini, though, insisted he had no choice but to play so many youngsters given his options for Kiev have been limited by injury.
Indeed, the City manager claimed his selection was in England’s national interest. “We’re forced to do it,” he said. “If we had played on Saturday... it’s better because we play for England in the Champions League.”
Hiddink stopped short of criticising Pellegrini’s actions, but presented an alternative view, as well as offering much-needed support for a competition whose future has been debated all week.
“The programme for many clubs is harsh,” he said. “On the other hand you can play every three or four days if you have a good squad of 17 or 18 fit players.”
He added: “Many people worldwide are focused on the FA Cup. As a youngster I watched it on television and it’s the temple of football. And we have to be careful not to devalue it.”
Hiddink’s connection with the cup was cemented during his first spell at Stamford Bridge when he guided the club to victory in the 2009 final against Everton. The Dutchman has again been parachuted in to bring stability and this performance provided further evidence he is succeeding.
By the manager’s own admission, Chelsea were guilty of a degree of complacency during the first half, particularly when they allowed Faupala to start and finish a neat passing move shortly after Costa appeared to have settled home nerves with a header from Hazard’s cross.
However, Willian and Hazard combined excellently to restore the lead three minutes into the second half before Cahill drilled home a loose ball and Hazard scored direct from a free-kick for his first Stamford Bridge goal of the season.
Tarore’s late goal, a back header from Oscar’s cross, completed the win and pushed the painful memories of the opening months of the season further into the distance.
“Everyone knows the history of the season at Chelsea,” said Hiddink. “We were down in December and step by step we are improving in the league, although there is not much left for Chelsea in the league. This win will help our confidence, especially after beating Newcastle 5-1 last weekend and an OK performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the week.”
For Pellegrini, there was relief at seeing his senior players emerge unscathed although the Chilean will also reflect that his more experienced players, and in particular keeper Willy Caballero, Martin Demichelis, and Fernando, were among his least effective.
The manager, though, had no regrets. “I always take the decisions,” he said. “It’s never good to lose 5-1 but there were lots of positives from the young players although maybe it was not the best plan to play them together but we had no choice.”
Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Cahill 6, Ivanovic 7, Baba Rahman 7; Fabregas 9, Mikel 7 (Matic 82); Pedro 5 (Oscar 69,7), Willian 8, Hazard 8; Diego Costa 7 (Traore 69,7).
Begovic, Remy, Miazga, Loftus-Cheek
Caballero 4; Zabaleta 6, Adarabioyo 7, Demichelis 4, Kolarov 6; M.Garcia 8, A.Garcia 7, Fernando 6 (Humphreys 77,6), Celina 6 (Barker 53,5); Iheanacho 7, Faupala 7.
Hart, Kompany, Sterling, Clichy, Fernandinho.