You could probably count the number of times Manchester United have produced a ‘convincing performance’ on one hand under Louis van Gaal – yet the Dutchman’s team are in 3rd spot after 25 league matches as well as being just 2 wins away from Wembley.
Supporters may be slightly outraged by such sluggishness and impotency coming from a team littered with world class talent, but Louis van Gaal’s men are a team full of winners – willing to scrap and fight their way to the finish line and pull off undeserved victories on a regular basis – despite not always being easy on the eye, this particular team has developed the welcome trait of being downright difficult to beat. We should be grateful for the stoic nature instilled by Louis van Gaal given that by this time last season David Moyes had seen his team lose 10 times.
However, performances of recent times have been (at times) unwatchable. The lack of cohesion and attacking flair is something that needs to be addressed shortly if Louis van Gaal’s record of only losing once since early November is to remain in tact. The most puzzling aspect being the fact that once upon a time, this Manchester United team was playing some glorious football – strolling through opponents with glorious pomp and arrogance – so it’s not like it isn’t there. It certainly is. It’s just about picking the right players and system, which is something that the current manager finds terribly difficult at times.
Nevertheless, Louis van Gaal will be very wary of the difficulties posed by this upcoming fixture having already been pushed to the limit in away trips to lower league opposition this season. Preston North End really is your standard 3rd division side – big striker, wingers who like to cross, nasty midfielders. Proper football side. They’ll fancy their chances of ruffling a few feathers on Monday night.
Preston haven’t beaten Manchester United since September 1959 but manager Simon Grayson knows a thing or two about his upcoming opponents – his victory at Old Trafford with Leeds back in 2010 marks the last time Manchester United were knocked out by a lower league side in this tournament. Preston striker Jermaine Beckford was the goal scorer that day as well, but is unlikely to feature due to an ear infection.
Preston have proven to be a sturdy outfit in League 1 this season; they currently sit in 4th spot in the 3rd division, 4 points off the automatic promotion slots having only lost twice in the League since mid-November. They easily dismantled Norwich at the Deepdale in the previous round. This is a different beast to the confidence-sapped Yeovil team Manchester United struggled past in the third round. This is a team full of grit and energy.
Manchester United will still be without Carrick, as he has suffered a setback in his recovery from injury. Doubts include Van Persie, Jones and Blind.
It’s a game so important that some poor guy offered his kidney just to sit through 90 minutes of un-penetrative, dull, possession based Louis van Gaal football. Expect some feisty challenges and a high-intensity, and if worst comes to the worst, long ball after long ball after long ball with some Fellaini elbows on the side.
Prediction: Preston North End 1-1 Manchester United