An FA Cup run is not a priority for Sam Allardyce, and given the form Crystal Palace are currently suffering, it's completely understandable. There is however a wistful sense among fans that, after getting a taste of the excitement that a run to the final can bring, it's a shame to feel so indifferent about the club's progression in the competition. That's what a relegation battle can provide.
Palace fans didn't expect last season's run to the final. Few would have predicted the wins at Tottenham, or the semifinal win at Wembley over Watford. The FA Cup form detracted from league performances, in a way that Alan Pardew ultimately struggled to recover from, but it provided excitement and a sense of expectation for a support that, since the 1990 run, had longed for another Cup adventure.
When the Eagles took the lead against Manchester United, for those few minutes, that decline in league from paled into insignificance. That Palace lost, and would continue to go on losing as they have done this season, proved to be a reminder of just how volatile a cup run can be for a club the size of Palace. Instead of taking all of the season's performances into account, it became the sole focus of the club. The defeat was a blow that Pardew couldn't recover from, as the squad appeared to lose faith in the manager while the owners invested in him.
The FA Cup final appeared to cloud the club's judgement when it came to dealing with Pardew. It meant that the club persisted with the manager while his team went through gradual, then starker, steps of regression. Perhaps that final appearance meant that, while the owners would have been justified in sacking him after the calamitous defeats to Burnley and Swansea City, there was some hesitancy in parting ways. That delay might prove to be costlier than initially thought.
Palace's performance against Everton on Saturday showed that perhaps Allardyce's work on the training ground is beginning to take effect. Everton scored four goals in their previous fixture and were limited to just one goal in their visit to Selhurst Park. The Eagles appeared to be better organised, more tenacious and crucially more capable of grinding out the kind of results that the manager had hoped the squad would. The squad were hugely disappointed at the final whistle but there were positives to take from the game.
The risk that this cup tie against Manchester City provides is that Allardyce must find a balance. If he picks too strong a squad he puts the team he'll play at Bournemouth just a few days later at risk, while picking one too weak could result in a mauling from Pep Guardiola's side. One could weaken the squad's fitness, the other could weaken their already-downtrodden confidence.
The likelihood is that the manager will pick a side similar to that of the previous cup game, albeit with new recruit Jeffrey Schlupp and long-term injury sufferer Loic Remy likely to be included due to their lack of match-fitness. Palace are also likely to persist with a 3-5-2 formation, which appeared to work well against Everton.
In goal, Julian Speroni is likely to feature again in place of Wayne Hennessey, while Martin Kelly should come in for Damien Delaney in central defence. The wing-back roles might be strengthened by the time the game takes place, with Palace being touted to sign one of Robbie Brady or Patrick van Aanholt this week, although it's doubtful Allardyce would put either straight into the lineup.
Meanwhile in midfield, Palace should see the return of Wilfried Zaha following his spell away on international duty at the African Nations Cup. In attack, Allardyce is likely to persist with the pairing of Remy and Christian Benteke.
Whatever the lineup is, the manager will hope that his defensive rigidity will take further hold with the players picked and frustrate City for as long as possible. Doing so might just give the squad a chance.