Tag Preston North End

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Preston v United: Reds seek style and substance

February 14, 2015 Tags: , Matches 11 comments
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It is far from the narrative that Louis van Gaal seeks: criticism from supporters, pundits and ex-Manchester United players about his team’s style as well as its substance. After all, the Dutchman has guided United to just one defeat in the past 18 matches – a record that, had it not included eight draws, might have United challenging for the Premier League title. As is it, United remains locked in a five-way battle for European football next season – and Van Gaal is increasingly on the defensive.

Respite, albeit brief, comes in the FA Cup, with United facing a lower division club for the third successive round. Van Gaal’s side struggled to beat Yeovil Town and Cambridge United in earlier rounds, with Preston North End no more likely to provide a walkover this time around. Supporters expect victory on Monday night, of course, but whether the Dutchman is able to bring a degree of cohesion to an attacking unit that has been largely sterile during that 18-match run remains a key question.

The accusation that Van Gaal has developed a ‘long ball game’ came at West Ham United, where Sam Allardyce drew a bizarre and unnecessary reaction from the Dutchman in the wake of United’s last-gasp draw in east London last weekend. That performance also brought a stinging rebuke from former United midfielder Paul Scholes.

“United’s history was built on attacking football, which does not always mean that the team kept clean sheets or did not concede chances,” said the player who appeared on 718 occasions for United. “Why do you think United have had some of the best goalkeepers in the world over the years? They needed them because the team committed so many players forward. At the moment I’m struggling to watch Van Gaal’s team with any great enjoyment.”

It was perhaps worse at home to Burnley in midweek, where United won but the visitors deserved so much more for a vibrant attacking performance that was in stark contrast to United’s recent approach. Then, amid the sterility, there is anything but tactical cohesion. Eight months into the job, Van Gaal is seemingly far from finding the balance that his philosophy demands.

“I have played five or six systems and I am looking still for the balance,” admitted the former Barcelona manager this week, who has switched to a 4-4-2 diamond in recent weeks.

“This system is more attractive than normally and I can play with more attacking players. In spite of the fact that we are looking for the balance, our results are not bad and our defensive organisation is not bad. So, I cannot say that I am very disappointed about that.”

Preston offers Van Gaal’s men the chance to progress in the only tournament United stands a realistic chance of claiming. Perhaps equally important, in the current atmosphere, is for the Dutchman’s side to put on a real show. Not that Van Gaal is tempted to talk up the chances of an open, attacking game.

“It’s always the same because you know the world is for the underdog and we have to play away under the same circumstances as at Cambridge or Yeovil,” said Van Gaal.

“You know that they play more or less with two rows of four and a striker who is dropping in, as did Cambridge and Yeovil and also for example Queens Park Rangers and Burnley. It is always difficult to play against a defending team.

On the pitch Van Gaal is unlikely to risk Phil Jones, who departed after only a few minutes against Burnley. Daley Blind could be involved, but Michael Carrick has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation is will not be available. If Blind does not feature hen Wayne Rooney could continue in a more defensive role. The Scouser finished United’s victory over Burnley sitting in front of the back four.

Van Gaal reserved praise for second-half substitute Ander Herrera, who again brought balance and energy to United’s midfield, although there is no guarantee that the Basque will feature. United’s manager has normally prefer Rooney, Juan Mata and, recently, Adnan Januzaj in deeper roles this season.

Preston North End v Manchester United, Deepdale, FA Cup, 16 February 2015

Meanwhile, Preston manager Simon Grayson, is without cup-tied Daniel Johnson while goalkeeper Sam Johnstone cannot play against his parent club. Thorsten Stuckmann takes over in goal, with Calum Woods and Callum Robinson also in the match-day squad. However, former Leeds United striker Jermaine Beckford, who scored in the FA Cup at Old Trafford in 2010, is out injured.

Preston has enjoyed a positive season under Grayson, with the Lilywhites chasing promotion to the Championship. With 16 games remaining Grayson’s side is within four points of automatic promotion after missing out in last season’s play-offs.

“We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain, and that is what we’ll do,” said Grayson of United’s visit on Monday night.

“We’ll go and enjoy playing against some of the best players in the world – fantastic atmosphere, massive profile for the football club and a tie we’re looking forward to and should enjoy. We’ll do ourselves justice, but what we’ve done is focus on the last two league games and getting results and performances.”

That freedom seemingly liberated both Cambridge and Yeovil in previous rounds. Or, in contrast, inhibited United’s performance. It took the late entry of Angel Di Maria at Yeovil to secure victory, while Cambridge enjoyed a huge payday in embarrassing United at the Abbey Stadium to earn a replay. For Van Gaal it remains a difficult task no matter how many places between the sides on Monday.

“You know the world is against you, the environment is against you because everyone is with the underdog,” said Van Gaal. “It is difficult to accept but it’s like that. But the chance that you can survive is higher because you are playing against lower qualities. But you have to beat the team with better motivation and in the atmosphere where everyone is against you.”

Fail at Preston and Van Gaal may find more of his own on the turn – not just the former players. It is the thin line the Dutchman treads this season.

Teams
Preston (3-5-2): Stuckmann; Clarke, Huntington, Wright; Wiseman, Welsh, Kilkenny, Laird, Gallagher; Davies, Garner.
United (4-1-3-2): Valdes; McNair, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Herrera, Rooney, Di Maria; Wilson, Falcao

Subs from
Preston: Humphrey, Buchanan, Reid, King, Ebanks-Blake, Woods, Robinson
United: De Gea, Evans, James, Blackett, Valencia, Januzaj, Young, Fellaini, Pereira, Van Persie

Head-to-head
Preston 22 – Draw 22 – United 31

Officials
Referee: Philip Dowd
Assistant Referees: Michael Mullarkey & David Bryan
Fourth Official: David Webb

Prediction
Preston 1-3 United

£1 bet club
1-3 @ 12/1
Running total: £(-)8.50

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Cronyism and the Fergusons

December 31, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 24 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will do anything to protect his sons. No news there. The question is – when does support turn into nepotism? For one, Jason, Ferguson has refused to speak to the BBC for six years. For another, Darren, Sir Alex delved first into Manchester United’s reserve squad then, with Ferguson junior’s sacking yesterday, senior turned off the tap.

Darren’s dismissal by Preston North End this week was with swift retribution by United today, whom ended the loan spells of Joshua King and Ritchie de Laet a fortnight early. Meanwhile, the club is actively seeking to end the season-long loan of a third United player, 19-year-old midfielder Matthew James.

Sir Alex’ patronage could hardly be more explicit. That three United players joined Preston simply to aid Sir Alex’ son was questionable in itself. The recall is a move that seeks neither to hide rank abuse of the loan system nor United’s youth policy, which is seemingly based not on the players’ needs but that of the Ferguson clan.

Preston chair Maurice Lindsay said that the recall surprised management at Deepdale, although United is within the terms of it’s contract with the Lancashire club. De Laet is on a short-term deal and King has a mid-season break clause, although James’ contract is different as the Bacup-born midfielder is due to stay with Preston until June.

“That has come as a bit of a shock to us and it’s a bit of a blow. Ritchie and Josh won’t now be available on Saturday,” Lindsay told North End’s website.

“We got a message from Manchester United that they have been summoned back immediately. Under the terms of the loan agreement they can do that, we recognise United’s legal right to do that.

“They would like Matty James back as well, but his contract is a bit different.”

Reports today indicated that United will seek to terminate James’ loan spell through legal means if necessary, such is Sir Alex’ anger at his son’s sacking after just 13 wins in 49 games for North End.

Not that the two immediate returnees have been a conspicuous success at Preston. Belgian defender De Laet has made five appearances for the Championship strugglers in the past two months, while striker King has scored just once in 10 games in all competitions.

James’ position is different though, with the talented England under-21 international a fixture in Ferguson junior’s side and clearly benefiting from regular football.

Realistically, with United out of the Carling Cup none of the trio will feature in the first team on recall and can only hope that another loan arrangement materialises in the January transfer window. Or Darren picks up a new job fast.

It’s not the first time Ferguson senior stands accused on nepotism of course. The Knight’s dispute with the BBC dates back to the broadcaster’s 2004 Panorama documentary, which ostensibly accused Jason – then an agent – of exploiting his father’s influence to sign United’s younger players to his agency books.

It was an accusation met with silence but neither denial nor legal action.

Thoughts of Cronyism aside, King, De Laet and James will genuine have cause to wonder whether United has their best interests at heart. After all Nicky Ajose has survived the dismissal of Brian Laws at Burnley and similarly Mame Biram Diouf remains at Blackburn Rovers despite Sam Allardyce’s controversial removal.

Of course, United has long since dispensed with any formal structure on transfers – permanent on temporary. Bébé’s acquisition in August is evidence enough of Ferguson’s continued ability of act on a whim, within the bounds of the Glazer family’s financial restrictions. It seems unlikely a call was made to Florida to sanction the loan recall.

The move also leaves Preston, struggling financially and five points adrift at the foot of the Championship, in serious trouble. Now under the stewardship of former Everton defender David Unsworth, Preston sacked Ferguson junior after the team picked up just 19 points this season.

“I was hoping this would never occur but when we’re approaching the new year bottom of the league and with the future of the club itself in serious jeopardy if we are relegated,” Lindsay told the Guardian.

“There clearly had to be some soul-searching and we had to tell Darren that for the sake of the club we needed a new manager. I went to his house for the sad task of talking to him and he was very dignified.”

After a second dismissal in as many seasons, junior has gone from the golden boy of lower league management to rebuilding a career now in tatters.

It’ll surely take more than his father’s patronage to fix this mess.