Another encounter for United against lower league opposition in the FA Cup which represents their only tangible opportunity for silverware this season.

This desire for a trophy was against the backdrop of Van Gaal’s use of Rooney in midfield with the “composition” of the team key. With Falcao and van Persie up front van Gaal has a point in that.


In: Valencia, Smalling, Shaw, Herrera and Fellaini.
Out: McNair, Jones, Evans, Januzaj and van Persie.


  • The first half was rather turgid for United but had elements of hope within it.
  • Playing Rooney up front resulted in much more movement from the forward line than usual.
  • Di Maria aside there was not enough runs from midfield to create space for the forwards.
  • Herrera played well and substantiated his claim for more starts.
  • Falcao substitution saw a big change; United went for width and directness.
  • United’s defenders did enough to get by, but didn’t cover themselves in glory.


In the early going United were in a clear diamond formation with Rooney shifted up front to partner Falcao whilst Fellaini dropped behind; United were mobile as positions and formation changed. There was great promise. United’s fullbacks pushed on, Preston’s conversely didn’t, with much of the play trying to take advantage of the space on the left hand side with most moves starting through Blind. Di Maria was guilty of a few wasteful passes.

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 23.19.13  Preston North End FC vs Manchester United FC

United defenders enjoyed an interesting tussle, with pressure chiefly coming from Davies who played on his own up top with Garner dropping off. Preston were overcoming United’s early promise noticeably frustrating Fellaini.

During the half there was conflict in the Belgian’s role, he dropped deep and ran with the ball yet without zip, he wasn’t alone in this, and then he would be pulling out wide of the 18 yard box. Again there was a lack of cohesion throughout the United team. For example, Rooney was more alive to passes and runs as di Maria continually looked for him than Falcao or Fellaini who were regularly marked by an organised Preston defence.

As the half came to an end we saw an increase in the influence of Preston’s fullbacks Laird and Humphreys yet De Dea wasn’t troubled in any way throughout the opening period.


The warning signs should have been there for United after Humphreys sailed a cross over to Garner and the space that Laird found himself in.

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 23.25.57  45632381

Preston took the lead soon after when a miss-kicked ball from Blind was headed unchallenged by the Preston defence.

Laird striking

Laird striking

This then came to Davies who bullied Rojo far too easily in the header, but it was the positioning of Valencia that gave the scorer Laird room to strike. Valencia moved over to fill the space left as the defence had moved over too far to the left. That area presented a few opportunities for Preston in the next ten minutes.

See Valencia’s positioning allowing space for Laird to attack

See Valencia’s positioning allowing space for Laird to attack

United’s stayed in their diamond as Preston went from 3-4-3 in attack to 4-5-1 in defence and on the 60th minute Van Gaal saw fit to change things introducing Young who came on for Falcao; another frustrating evening for the Columbian. The shift saw Young left, Di Maria right and Fellaini up with Rooney.

Then United spared their blushes through Herrera who scored his second FA Cup goal following a pass from Young who found himself free on the right hand side, creating an overload. Boom! United had equalized after 65 minutes.

Herrera scores

Herrera scores

Shortly after on 72 minutes Boom! Valencia did really well getting forward but was allowed a lot of space to attack to get his cross in. The cross was great as it found the right man in Fellaini who headed at Stuckmann then prodded home the second ball….desire! 2-1 as Valencia had become much more involved.

The shift in Preston’s mood was clear as Grayson rolled the dice and made three changes going to a 4-4-2. The United mood was reflected in the supporter’s mood, bouncing.

Rooney penalty

Rooney penalty

Then Rooney bagged a penalty after being tripped by Stuckmann. 3-1. The build up was key in this as it was one if the only instances in which Smalling attacked the ball decisively. Rooney dispatched the penalty with aplomb. Boom! 88 minutes game over.


United came to life when they went behind but this was also influenced by the introduction of Young. This stretched the pitch increasing the spaces between the defenders and United now played with width, Van Gaal must be applauded for the change.

The tempo was a big weakness up until this substitution after which we saw speed paired with directness; Valencia’s crossing, Fellaini’s heading, Young’s movement and Rooney’s overall performance were tremendous and a lift from the insipid forward play of late.  Van Gaal’s point about including Rooney in midfield due to personnel matters has some merit but with Herrera in the team the question of advantages and disadvantages of Rooney’s position is answered, he must surely go up front.

Arsenal beckon.