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It's FA Cup weekend and here are five talking points to digest before the action

Liverpool’s Selhurst demons, United’s tactical conundrum and what will change at Villa?

THE PREMIER LEAGUE takes a break this week as the FA Cup takes centre stage with eight ties down for decision over the course of the weekend.

The fourth round threw up a host of almost fictitious upsets as both Manchester City and Chelsea were dumped out by lower league opposition. It leaves the competition wide open.

Here are five talking points ahead of the fifth round action…

What will change at Villa now that Lambert is gone?

Soccer - Paul Lambert What, if anything, will change at Villa now that Paul Lambert's reign is over? PA Wire / Press Association Images PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

It was almost inevitable that the Villa Park hierarchy would relieve Paul Lambert of his duties after last week’s abject defeat at Hull – their fifth straight loss in the Premier League.

Villa are floundering in the lower regions of the Premier League and face a battle to pull clear of danger before the real panic begins but the FA Cup has offered some momentary respite for the Midlands club this term.

Although they haven’t stormed into this stage of the competition convincingly, they have ground out the results to make it into the last 16 and now have a real chance to give their passionate fans something to cheer about.

Scott Marshall and goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall will take temporary charge for the game against Leicester on Sunday while Randy Lerner hunts for Lambert’s successor and the right man to steer Villa clear of the red zone.

While a new manager has yet to be appointed, a new regime can often give a club the desired lift. The league might be the priority but both Villa and Leicester desperately need some sort of spark.

Promotion chasers look for right balance to fight on two fronts

Britain Soccer FA Cup AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Both Middlesbrough and Derby County are in prime position, as it stands, in the race for promotion to the Premier League. The Championship clubs have enjoyed terrific seasons to date and the ultimate goal, naturally, is to earn the holy grail of top-flight ascension come May.

Yet, both have been able to fight on two fronts with considerable success. Middlesbrough, the current Championship leaders, knocked Man City out in the last round and face an equally difficult trip to holders Arsenal on Sunday.

Derby, meanwhile, who’s manager Steve McClaren has been linked with the vacant post at Villa Park, host Reading in an all-Championship affair at the iPro Stadium. They have a great opportunity to reach the quarter-finals and, perhaps, beyond.

But, at this juncture of this season, the big games come thick and fast and while an FA Cup run can be hugely rewarding, the prime objective will be to secure promotion.

Both McClaren and Aitor Karanka will be hoping their sides can advance this weekend but they’ll also have one eye on the following week when league action resumes.

Liverpool out to banish Selhurst Park demons

Britain Soccer Premier League AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Brendan Rodgers’ side narrowly lost out on a place at Wembley for this month’s Capital One Cup final so they’ll be desperate to go one step better in the FA Cup and win the blue-riband trophy for the first time since 2006.

Firstly, they’ll have to overcome a re-energised Crystal Palace side under Alan Pardew at a ground that has caused them a fair share of problems in recent years. A 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park in November followed that 3-3 draw twelve months previous.

Liverpool are without a win in their last six visits to the London venue but the Reds now have a glorious opportunity to give Steven Gerrard the send-off his years of service deserve. But, the captain will be sidelined for Saturday’s evening kick-off through injury.

The Reds needed a replay to see off Bolton in the last round but they are improving on a weekly basis as they climb the Premier League standings. With an Europa League tie to come later in the week, Liverpool are fighting on three fronts but they’ll want to give the FA Cup their full attention given the sides that have fallen at previous hurdles.

Palace, meanwhile, are nervously looking over their shoulder in the league but the prospect of a day out at Wembley will concentrate their efforts this weekend.

Cup specialists Bradford out to cause another upset

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Bradford City v MK Dons - Coral Windows Stadium The Valley Parade playing surface has been the subject of much debate this week Mike Egerton Mike Egerton

Given Bradford’s recent Cup pedigree, would a home win on Sunday over Sunderland be labelled an upset? The Bantams reached the League Cup final in 2013 and incredibly came from two down to beat Chelsea in the last round.

Now, they get another shot at a Premier League side but this time at Valley Parade. After the midweek defeat to QPR, Gus Poyet’s Black Cats have been dragged into the relegation dogfight but, much like Villa and Leicester, the FA Cup offers them a chance to play without the same level of pressure.

That said, however, a defeat for Poyet’s side to League One opposition would not go down well with the travelling support. He’s already blamed the pitch should his side come unstuck at Valley Parade so it will be interesting to see how seriously he takes the tie given Sunderland’s league standing.

While the primary concern for Sunderland is retaining their top-flight status, the FA Cup make just be the breeding ground to acquire form, confidence and rediscover that winning habit.

Preston no place to try and solve United’s tactical conundrum

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Burnley - Old Trafford What exactly does LVG have in that notebook? PA Wire / Press Association Images PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Louis van Gaal has a habit of winning cup competitions in his first season at clubs and he’ll be desperate to continue that trend this season. The Dutchman has, for the first time, come under severe scrutiny in recent weeks as United’s continue to show little sign of making any significant progress in the right direction.

That said, for all the the indifferent performances, van Gaal’s side are in with a great opportunity of winning their first FA Cup in a decade and adding a silver lining to his first season in charge at Old Trafford.

The ultimate goal is, of course, to finish in the top four but winning the first piece of silverware since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson would be a significant step in the right direction, regardless of the means.

United have stumbled past lower league opposition in previous rounds to book a date with Preston North End on Monday night and much like Yeovil and Cambridge, the League One side will be no pushover.

It’s another potential upset and although it may seem like a perfect opportunity to try something, anything, different in order to ignite United’s faltering campaign, the significance of this competition for the Old Trafford outfit cannot be understated.

Van Gaal doesn’t seem sure of his best XI or which system best suits the players he has at his disposal. Wayne Rooney has been deployed in a defensive midfield role of late, Angel di Maria looks lost and Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao aren’t far from shooting blanks completely.

Van Gaal is currently in a tactical conundrum with each passing came throwing up more questions than answers. Somehow United have been able to grind out the right results, most recently against Burnley, and they’ll likely have to do it again at Deepdale.

All of this weekend’s FA Cup fixtures can be found here.

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