- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

LONDON (AP) - Within minutes of lifting the FA Cup in May, Louis van Gaal discovered how little the competition factored into the decision on his Manchester United future.

United’s approach for Jose Mourinho to succeed Van Gaal emerged as the Dutch coach was facing the media at Wembley Stadium straight after beating Crystal Palace. Two days later, Van Gaal was booted out of United, paying the price for failing to secure Champions League qualification by finishing in the top four.

It’s clear what the priority is now for English Premier League owners like the Glazers.

United and the other 19 Premier League teams enter the FA Cup in the third round this weekend, knowing success in soccer’s oldest knockout competition has rarely counted less.

What matters is making cash through the Premier League, which has eroded the FA Cup’s long-standing cherished place in the English football calendar over the last two decades.

Van Gaal is one of several managers to leave their jobs despite reaching an FA Cup final. Alan Pardew, his Palace counterpart in May, was fired in December due to the London club’s lowly Premier League position.

Going back to 2013, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was turned out of his job two days after losing the final to Wigan, which was relegated in the same season. Martinez did, however, secure a move to Everton after his triumph.

Roberto Di Matteo, the 2012 cup winner, was at least given until November after his May triumph before being dumped by Chelsea.

Perhaps the only manager the FA Cup has mattered to in recent years was Arsene Wenger, with successes in 2014 and 2015 easing some of the heat he has faced for Arsenal’s failure to win the Premier League since 2004.

Wenger’s last cup final victory came against Aston Villa in May 2015. Given that Villa hadn’t won a major trophy since the 1996 League Cup or won the FA Cup since 1957, reaching the final was a proud day for manager Tim Sherwood. Five months later, Sherwood was dismissed and he hasn’t found another job.

No current manager has more experience of the FA Cup and the debate about its luster than Wenger, who has spent 21 years at Arsenal.

“I have no special solution,” the Frenchman said. “But as well when April comes and May comes and teams go to Wembley it’s something special … it’s a big priority for us.

“We have shown historically that we care about that competition and it’s a massive competition for everybody.”

Just less so in January.

“After the congested Christmas period it’s always a tricky game the third round, and that is why I believe (it’s a) mental challenge as well for the Premier League teams to prepare well, not to have a bad surprise, and especially today when you go to a Championship team it’s always difficult.”

Arsenal travels on Saturday to Preston, which is 11th in the 24-team second-tier League Championship. Preston North End’s heyday was in the 19th century, winning the top tier twice and the FA Cup once. The northern English club’s last major honor was lifting the FA Cup in 1938.

Here is a look at the pick of the third-round fixtures involving Premier League teams against lower-league sides.

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MAN UNITED-READING

United’s cup defense begins with a reunion as former defender Jaap Stam returns to Old Trafford. The Dutchman won the cup in United’s 1998-99 treble-winning season along with the Premier League and Champions League.

“I’m not going to make a big thing of it because I’m not going to be waving,” Stam said.

That’s because the next time he returns to United he hopes it is because Reading, currently third in the Championship, is back in the Premier League.

TOTTENHAM-ASTON VILLA

Steve Bruce, whose Hull side lost the 2014 final to Arsenal, is midway through his first season at Aston Villa. There’s little doubt his main task is returning the team to the Premier League but it is a place below Preston in 12th place and seven points from the playoff spots.

Tottenham is likely to use the cup on Sunday as a chance to rest the key players behind the five-match league winning run, crowned by the victory over Chelsea on Wednesday that lifted Mauricio Pochettino’s side to third.

LIVERPOOL-PLYMOUTH

It’s second in the Premier League versus second in the fourth tier at Anfield on Sunday. And it’s Juergen Klopp’s first taste of the FA Cup, but the Liverpool manager is likely to use the game to test the depth of his squad and give game time to youngsters.

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