1) Happy for Herrera
I’m sure that every United fan was chuffed at seeing Ander Herrera’s name in the starting line-up that was revealed at 18:45 GMT. It was only his second start since January 4, and third since October 20.
Being as it was a rare start for the Spaniard, you could tell, certainly in the first half, that he looked a little off colour, due to the lack of game time, but he grew as the game went on, and likewise United’s performance grew.
His last start came in the third round of this fixture away at Yeovil Town, where he bagged himself that sensational strike to break the deadlock and set us on our way on that occasion. Another important cup goal followed here, as he scored the equaliser, to lift the team and spark another comeback.
He produced a decent performance in midweek when he came on against Burnley for the injured Daley Blind, and he built on that with another hard-working shift. He is not a goalscoring midfielder, but he has proven that he has a goal in him, which is an important asset to the team.
Louis van Gaal claimed over the weekend that his priority for the summer would be to buy a midfielder. I don’t think any United fan will dispute the claims that the midfield area needs strengthening, but Herrera now has a chance to establish himself in van Gaal’s plans, something that the manager reiterated before the game to BBC pundit Mark Chapman.
More of the same from Herrera, and he could be a mainstay in the team going forward, something most, if not all, United fans want to see.
Discuss Herrerra’s performance against Preston on SEA’s forum – Ander Herrera | Match Discussion thread 2014/15.
2) The form of Young and Felli
When last season came to a close, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini would probably have been the first names on many United fans lips that they would’ve wanted sold in the summer.
Now we know Van Gaal has an arrogance about him, even claiming he can make any player better earlier in the season, but he has produced something out of the ordinary by resurrecting the careers of Young and Fellaini.
Young has been deployed primarily as a left wing-back during the season and for someone used to bombing forward and taking on opponents, it was a new role for him, but he excelled during the pre-season tour of the United States, and replicated his form during the current campaign.
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the hamstring injury he picked up at Stoke City on New Year’s Day, he would still be in the starting line-up. But he has worked himself back to fitness: a cameo in the replay with Cambridge United, an U21 fixture and now half an hour against Preston, where he arguably changed the game when he replaced the ineffective Falcao. And with Van Gaal opting for wingers at times in the last couple of games, he has a chance to regain his starting position in his favoured position perhaps.
Recent reports suggested Young was in line for a new contract, and if he can continue his form under Van Gaal, he should be signed up sooner as later.
As for our burly Belgian Fellaini, he was made the scapegoat during David Moyes’ infamous reign as United boss. This was largely due to the huge price tag, the fact that he was Moyes’ only summer signing, and that he’d played under the Scot at Everton.
But with injuries to others earlier in the season, he was given a run of games where he really excelled. Our six game winning run ended at Villa Park back in December, and it was clear to see that Fellaini’s absence through injury was felt that day.
A spell on the sidelines and then on the bench, Fellaini is back in the manager’s plans, and did a great job alongside Rooney up front during the second half. His aerial presence is a real asset for corners and crosses, not just when attacking but defending too. He took his goal really well also, and an important goal to give us the lead.
I certainly couldn’t have foreseen the form of Young and Fellaini, but Van Gaal has given them the platform to perform, and they are repaying his faith.
3) Rejuvenated Roo
Our captain Wayne Rooney played up front tonight. I don’t think we have seen the last of him in midfield, but he grabbed the chance to show the manager that he can still be of use up front.
Not a vintage display from our third all-time top goalscorer, but he was doing the right things. He was making the runs into the channels, linking up well with Angel Di Maria and looked a lot more comfortable leading the line.
His forward run allowed him to win the penalty for the third and final goal, and he smashed it home like a forward on form, which we know he isn’t, having not scored since Boxing Day. But that will do him the world of good, and seeing his goal drought end in his first game as a striker, will give Van Gaal food for thought.
The manager did admit that Rooney was our best striker and seeing this performance on Monday should allow him to play more frequently up top.
A goal from open play would’ve been nice, but the 29-year-old proved that his days as a striker are far from over.
Discuss Rooney’s performance against Preston on SEA’s forum – Wayne Rooney | Match Discussion thread 2014/15.
4) Wing play and spirit
Chris Smalling said that van Gaal was “shocked” at the performance against Burnley on Wednesday night. Ex-player turned pundit Paul Scholes labelled the style of play “miserable” last week also.
Heading into half-time, I would use the same words.
But for the second time in as many games, the second half was much better and much different, despite conceding early on.
It reminded me of a Sir Alex Ferguson team, waiting until falling behind to kick into gear, but credit to the players, they began playing with a lot more purpose and intensity and seemed to use the spirit of the club and the fans behind the goal they were attacking, to produce a cup comeback and run out 3-1 winners.
Let’s be honest, the first half was far too slow and pedantic. It was painful to watch. Blind had 52 touches by the interval, but how many of those resulted in forward passes? But in the second half, reverting to a much more traditional 4-4-2 formation, allowed width, crosses and players running at their opponent.
The manager hailed the cross from Antonio Valencia for the second goal, claiming they had been working on it on training too. It shows how useful playing with wingers and getting crosses into the penalty area can be, and Van Gaal now has Valencia, Young, Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj at his disposal for the wide areas, where they will be most effective.
United traditional play with wingers, Van Gaal has traditionally played with wingers and I have every confidence, that, at least by next season, we will be seeing a United side playing with pace and purpose once again.
5) Farewell Falcao?
There have been a few performances this season to suggest that Radamel Falcao won’t be signing a permanent deal come the summer, but maybe this one firms up the minds of the United board and Van Gaal.
It wasn’t the greatest of performances on the whole, especially before the break, but I could pick out a few things each player did well. However, I can make no case for our number nine.
He seemed lethargic and immobile; he was sloppy in possession; he lacked pace and at times effort; he wasn’t making the runs for the midfielders to find him, it was a sad sight to see one of the world’s deadliest strikers, perform so pitifully against, with all due respect, League One opposition.
At one point, Blind seemed to give him the “evils” when a ball over the top from the Dutchman bounced through to their keeper, with Falcao making little attempt to get on the end of it, summing up the frustration his teammates are starting to have with him.
He was withdrawn against Burnley, the only sub used that wasn’t enforced which tells its own story, and he was the only one to be withdrawn tonight, quite soon after going a goal down and he sarcastically squinted towards the fourth official’s board, as if to check that it was his number. That will not go down well with the manager, but it is his decision so Falcao shouldn’t have made such a spectacle of it – besides, it was the right decision anyway.
Rooney and Fellaini showed their use up front tonight, James Wilson has blistering space, and Robin van Persie has a good relationship with Van Gaal, so is this the last time we see Falcao in our famous red shirt? With a minimum of 15 games left in the season it would seem unlikely to be the case, but time is fast running out for the Colombian to make an impact, but his recent performances suggest that he knows himself that he won’t be wearing the United kit come September.
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