Marouane Fellaini fires resurged Red Devils past courageous Preston
Manchester United, now 11/4 second-favourites with Coral to lift the FA Cup, survived an early scare to overcome League One side Preston and progress to a tantalising quarter-final clash with holders Arsenal, after second-half strikes from Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini helped secure a 3-1 triumph.
Captain Wayne Rooney blasted home a late penalty to make sure of the result, after controversially going down under an attempted diving tackle from Preston stopper Thorsten Stuckmann, completing a second period comeback following Scott Laird’s deflected opener on 47 minutes.
Louis van Gaal’s men were set to become the latest top-flight outfit to be victims of a cup shock this year, but a swift switch in tactics and personnel from the Dutch boss halted their third-tier opponents and confirmed a meeting with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners at Old Trafford.
The Premier League visitors are vying for their 12th ever FA Cup crown, with Dutchman Van Gaal aiming to land silverware success in his debut season at another club, having previously done so with fellow big boys Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
United last won this competition in 2004 under Sir Alex Ferguson, but the Red Devils have endured a stuttering run of 11 years without lifting the country’s famous cup, a struggle which was made even more difficult to end after drawing the holders in the next round.
Under-fire Colombian striker Radamel Falcao has attracted further scrutiny for his poor display at Deepdale, failing to have a single shot on goal or create any chances for his fellow attackers.
It was after the hour mark, when the faltering forward was replaced by wideman Ashley Young, and a switch of formation implemented. United then turned the tie in their favour, with wide outlets Antonio Valenica and Young proving too much for Preston’s tiring defence to handle.
Ecuador winger Valencia relished having Angel Di Maria to accompany him down the right flank, and it was his lofted cross which led to towering target man Fellaini’s crucial strike, after Basque box-to-box player Herrera had earlier levelled proceedings with an individual effort.
The introduction of width completely changed fortunes of the fifth round cup clash, with the Red Devils’ attacking stars finding more space and big Belgian Fellaini starring as a frontman, working off dangerous crosses from the flanks.
However, Van Gaal’s decision to go back to basics has again angered fans, with the Dutch manager’s direct-route approach showing a reversal of United’s usual free-flowing style of play from past campaigns.
Despite another under-par performance, the Red Devils have now been beaten just once in their last 19 games across all competitions, and have a quarter-final outing with London rivals Arsenal to prepare for.
United are also involved in a Premier League battle to reclaim a spot in next season’s Champions League, and are odds-on at 2/5 to finish in the top four this term.