We look at the big talking points ahead of the fifth round
Sunday 15 February 2015 15:50, UK
The FA Cup has already thrown up some big shocks this season, and ahead of the fifth round we ponder the questions that could be answered...
Can Liverpool end their Selhurst nightmare?
Brendan Rodgers will be all-too familiar with his Liverpool side’s recent woes at Crystal Palace. November’s visit to Selhurst Park saw them slip to a 3-1 defeat as the Reds endured a tough start to life without Luis Suarez, while six months earlier the dramatic 3-3 draw with the Eagles gave Man City the upper hand in the title race.
Liverpool are without a win in their last six visits to Selhurst Park in all competitions, but after some high-profile fourth-round exits, Rodgers will undoubtedly use winning the FA Cup as motivation, with Steven Gerrard desperate to end his Reds career on a high. The skipper will have to rely on his colleagues, though, as he sits out Saturday’s clash through injury.
Palace registered an excellent 3-2 win at Southampton in the last round, while Liverpool needed a replay to see off Bolton, but Rodgers’ men are climbing their way up the Premier League table and after their win over Tottenham last week might fancy themselves to get the Palace monkey off their backs.
Will Van Gaal tinker or do results come first?
Much has been made of the Manchester United manager’s team selections and tactics in recent weeks, but the fact remains that Louis van Gaal’s men have lost just once in their last 18 outings in all competitions.
England boss Roy Hodgson has said he’d prefer to see Wayne Rooney playing up front, but Van Gaal has continued to deploy the 29-year-old in midfield. An FA Cup tie with Preston would seem like an opportunity for the Red Devils boss to try something different, but he seems happy with his current winning formula.
The Dutchman has a habit of winning domestic cups in his debut season, lifting trophies at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in his first year in charge, and that – rather than silencing the doubters – is likely to influence his decisions for Monday’s clash.
Will injuries prove the undoing of West Ham at the Hawthorns?
Andy Carroll is facing the rest of the season on the sidelines after tearing a knee ligament in the draw at Southampton in midweek, but that’s only the start of Sam Allardyce’s injury worries.
Cheikhou Kouyate limped off at St Mary’s, while Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, James Collins and Winston Reid are all doubtful for the trip to the Hawthorns, where Tony Pulis has a much cleaner bill of health in his squad, with only Victor Anichebe and Jonas Olsson absent and strikers Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye both netting in midweek.
The Hammers have played nine games since the turn of the year and the squad is becoming increasingly stretched. Following the exits of Chelsea and Manchester City, every team left in the FA Cup will see this year as their best chance of winning the competition, but Allardyce faces a tough challenge against Pulis’ resurgent Baggies.
Will their FA Cup run distract Derby from a promotion push?
The Championship season is turning into a real thriller, with plenty of teams still in the race for promotion. It looks like a battle between Middlesbrough, Bournemouth and Derby for the automatic spots, but Steve McClaren’s side will have to be careful not to let the prospect of Wembley put them off their charge for the Premier League.
The Rams have lost just one of their last 11 games in all competitions and will be favourites going into the clash with Reading at the iPro Stadium, where they will be just one game away from a semi-final at Wembley.
Both sides will have the thought in the back of their minds that they could become the first team outside the top division to win the FA Cup since West Ham in 1980, but given the choice you suspect McClaren would prefer to end Derby’s seven-year Premier League absence over winning at Wembley.
What can Aston Villa do now Lambert is gone?
Paul Lambert got the chop at Villa Park this week after his side slipped into the relegation zone with a fifth-straight defeat as they lost 2-0 at Hull. Scott and Andy Marshall will take charge for Sunday’s tie against Leicester, before Lambert’s successor – if appointed before their game with Stoke next week – has 13 matches to keep Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Villa are believed to be looking for a permanent replacement for Lambert, rather than finding an interim solution, with Jurgen Klinsmann and Tim Sherwood among the names mentioned. But the immediate concern will be picking up a much-needed victory to lift morale in the squad and the stands.
Villa’s league goal drought was ended against Chelsea last weekend, but they’ve scored just five times in their last 12 games in all competitions and their misfiring forwards really need to start finding the net.
Is Karanka set for another cup scalp?
Middlesbrough produced one of the shocks of the fourth round with a stunning 2-0 win at Manchester City, and their reward is a visit to the home of the FA Cup holders.
Aitor Karanka has guided Boro to the top of the Championship, building a team that knows how to win games and is very difficult to beat. They’ve shipped just 20 goals in 30 league games this season and will look to frustrate Arsene Wenger’s men on Sunday.
The Boro boss worked with Gunners midfielder Mesut Ozil at Real Madrid and has admitted he hopes the German has a bad day at the office, but with one impressive away victory under his belt he will be keen to pit his promotion hopefuls against another top Premier League side.
What effect will the Valley Parade pitch have?
Bradford have made a habit of cup runs recently, reaching the Capital One Cup final in 2013 and famously knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup this season with a stunning 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge in the fourth round.
The lowest-ranked team left in the competition lie eighth in League One after an impressive 2-1 victory over MK Dons at Valley Parade, where there are plenty of bare, muddy patches all over the playing surface.
Sunderland needed a replay to see off Championship opposition in the form of Fulham in the last round, and Gus Poyet’s side will be wary of slipping up against Phil Parkinson’s giant killers, both metaphorically and literally.
Can Hughes enjoy a happier reunion with an old club?
Stoke boss Mark Hughes faced his former club Manchester City in midweek, but it wasn’t a memorable return for the Welshman as his side succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
This weekend he faces a second former club in four days with a return to Ewood Park, where he was in charge for four seasons and took them from a relegation-threatened side in 2004 to a seventh-place finish in 2007/08, before taking charge at Man City the following summer.
Stoke’s home form is usually their key to success, but Hughes’ men have earned more Premier League points on the road than they have at the Britannia Stadium. They go into Saturday’s clash as favourites, but face a Blackburn side with home form to match that of Bournemouth, who lie second in the Championship.