Manchester United have enjoyed a rich vein of success in cup competitions over the years, although they have also been on the end of some major giant-killings. Losing to Southend in the League Cup in 2006 may always remain in the memory, but this season’s Capital One Cup debacle at MK Dons was a real reminder that a club of United’s calibre and quality are not immune from falling short against lower league opponents. The FA Cup may be Louis Van Gaal’s best hope of winning silverware in his first season in charge, but taking Monday’s upcoming Fifth Round tie at Preston North End lightly is simply not an option. Thousands of fans will travel to Deepdale in the hope that the team will put in the required performance to see them through to the Quarter Finals, and with Van Gaal’s men on a six match unbeaten run, they will be considered favourites to avoid a potential banana skin.
The Reds may consider themselves more fortunate than others to be drawn against lower league opponents in the previous two rounds, but they should both serve as a warning that Preston should not be under-estimated. Victories against Yeovil and Cambridge, which required a replay for United to get the job done, have put the team a step closer to securing their first FA Cup since 2004. Van Gaal may be tempted to give some of the fringe players a run-out, with the likes of James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj in contention for a starting berth. Michael Carrick’s injury absence may present an opportunity for Ander Herrera to prove himself as an adequate replacement; while Herrera is no longer making La Liga headlines for Real Zaragoza and Athletic Bilbao, a positive performance at Preston could really launch his Manchester United career.
Stick or twist?
Simon Grayson has continued to do a good job at Preston North End who are currently firmly in the mix for automatic promotion from League One. Three consecutive victories is a welcome return to form for the Lilywhites who face the moral dilemma that any team in their situation faces in cup competitions against higher league opposition. Preston have the option of making wholesale changes to their team and playing a much weakened team to prevent injuries to key players, or field their strongest line-up and give it a real go with the belief that they can pull off a giant-killing. It remains to be seen what avenue Grayson goes down, but their league form, combined with victories against Norwich and Sheffield United in the previous rounds, makes them dangerous opponents on their own turf.