And so our FA Cup campaign continues with yet another draw against a team much lower down the leagues than ourselves.
This time we travel to League One’s Preston who were responsible for giving David Moyes his first chance at football management so thanks for that guys.
Preston are currently having a very good season and currently sit in fourth place in League One – their home record in particular has been very strong with just one defeat at the Deepdale in over twelve months.
As for us – well, I’m still not entirely convinced by LvG and his “philosophy”. When the shit has been about to hit the fan, his philosophy has been thrown out of the window in favour of the less sophisticated “lump the ball up to Fellaini” tactic and with some success, it might be added.
However, I do believe that we’ll actually be able to play football at the Deepdale and it perhaps won’t be the scraps we’ve had to fight against Yeovil and Cambridge en route to this stage.
I do think that we’ll be in for a tough match again though and I note that wily old campaigner, Kevin Davies, now plays for Preston so our defenders will have their hands full with the more physical side of his game which I very much doubt has been tempered on his journey down the leagues.
I can see a 2-1 win for us here tonight but we might even have to come from behind to achieve it.
It was good to see us bang in a few goals against Leicester over the weekend as goals are something that have deserted us a bit in recent weeks and no more so than in the first match we played against Cambridge the other week.
I’m not going to over-analyse this one. Cambridge deserved their replay and the jackpot payout that will come with it but there can surely be no excuses for another poor display in front of goal from us tonight.
I expected us to win the first game comfortably but I got it completely wrong however, I think tonight will be a different story as the Cambridge players find themselves in a packed Old Trafford and completely out of their comfort zone.
Once again a cup competition has set us up for a no-win situation and how the media love it.
It’s obviously Friday and the kick-off time is 19:55. When was the last time we ever had a fixture like that?
Oh well… I suppose it’s churlish to complain because we’d also be complaining had we drawn top Premier League sides so early in the cup competitions.
Our Third Round tie came against struggling Yeovil but we made hard work of that and only a screamer from Herrera (who was ridiculously booked for celebrating it… I mean, do they want players to care about the FA Cup or don’t they?) and a late, late goal from Di Maria to leave us with a rather flattering 2-0 scoreline to our name.
Tonight’s opponent is even further down the English League pecking order as Cambridge currently sit right in the middle of League Two.
I do expect their players to be fully up for this one and will probably find extra reserves of energy needed to close us down at every turn but I find it hard to believe that our quality won’t win through in the end.
My main concern is that we look like we’ve lost our way a bit recently. We’ve stopped conceding quite so many but we’re not scoring too many, either.
However, the last time there were more than two goals in one of our matches was Boxing Day so we’re probably due a bit of a goal-fest and I think tonight could be the night.
For all the time I’ve been running this site I’ve felt that we were due another FA Cup win. We’re still waiting for us to add to our eleven FA Cup wins, the last of which was 2004.
For all the time I’ve been running this site we’ve also been the club with the most FA Cup wins to our name (eleven) but last year saw this record equalled by Arsenal whilst we were dumped out in this round by Swansea 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Of course, facing a League One side as we do today, albeit away from home, we’d expect to progress a little further this time around but we all thought something similar before we were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by the MK Dons earlier in the season.
I do hope LvG fully embraces this tournament – it does represent our only realistic chance of silverware this season and if the season were to end with us back in the Champions League and an FA Cup win to our name then that would surely be seen as a successful debut season for him and a generally very good season for us.
There seems little point looking at the form of both teams going into this one – if the FA Cup has taught us anything down the years it is that anything can, and does, happen every year.
However, it cannot be ignored that Yeovil really are struggling at the moment – they sit right at the foot of League One and have actually only won one of their twelve league home games all season and are currently on a run of five straight home defeats.
We, of course, whilst generally becoming slightly more consistent of late, are still capable of shooting ourselves in the foot with some of our more shambolic defending and I have little doubt that Yeovil will be launching the ball into our box at every opportunity in an attempt to capitalise on the ensuing chaos.
What remains to be seen at the time of writing is the team LvG will put out for this one. We are in the busiest time of the season and several key players have had a busy couple of weeks and are surely due a rest this afternoon and I think a couple of the subs used in our last match against Stoke could provide some clues (Januzaj, Herrera and Rafael spring to mind).
This should also be a chance for Falcao to gain some much-needed match fitness and a chance for young James Wilson to show what he can do.
All in all, I simply cannot believe that we are going to crash out of another cup competition in the opening stages against such vastly inferior opposition – we’ve surely had our stinker for this season – and I can see us running out fairly comfortable winners here this afternoon.
After last week’s defeat to Spurs, our Premier League title chances probably disappeared completely and I think even the biggest United fan in the world would be hard-pressed to put forward a case for us winning the Champions League so this and the Capital One Cup probably represent our best hopes of winning a piece of silverware this season now.
As with our Capital One Cup run, we’re not getting many favours from the draw, though and, yet again, we face Premier League opposition from the off.
In a slightly strange little quirk of coincidence, this fixture will also actually be our next Premier League match.
Way back in August, Swansea were our first Premier League opponents and we came out 4-1 winners.
We huffed and puffed a bit that day but, overall, I think we all generally agreed that it was a good start for David Moyes.
Now we’re midway through the season and we’re about to go into a double-header against Swansea (with a Capital One Cup semi against Sunderland sandwiched between), the general consensus is more along the lines of “not good enough”.
Of course, injuries to key players hasn’t helped matters but injuries have always been part and parcel and cannot really be used as an excuse for a club with a squad as large as ours.
My main problem has been the sheer inconsistency shown by the team.
Prior to the Spurs defeat, it looked like we had finally hit on a level of consistency but that game was our season condensed to 90 minutes. Decidedly average for the most part but then we really tore into Spurs for the last 20-30 minutes and looked much more like our old selves.
So. Which United will turn up today?
That’s the big question and, given our results so far this season (even at Old Trafford) it’s becoming an impossible one to answer making predictions, at best, a stab in the dark.
With half an eye on this match taking place so soon after, both managers played understrength teams over the weekend but only one of them got it right on the day and this has left Benitez, whose position at Chelsea has always been dodgy, in an even worse position.
He needs to win today or he will indeed be looking a fool.
There is a theory, which I happen to subscribe to, that Benitez actually values the FA Cup more than even finishing in the top four of the Premier League. He knows he won’t be at Chelsea next season no matter what happens and an FA Cup win will look better on his CV than “qualified for the Champions League”.
Obviously, the Chelsea fans don’t see why achieving both should be beyond a team that has managed to do that and more over the last ten years or so and, should they fail to qualify for the Champions League then I doubt even an FA Cup will do much to appease them – certainly Roman won’t be pleased at not being in the Champions League next season.
As for us, well, Fergie did tinker with the team a lot against Sunderland but the 1-0 victory fully justified the selections. At this stage of the season, it is just about winning the games. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be by five goals to nil. As far as the Premier League goes, four more 1-0’s should secure the title.
1-0 will be plenty here today, too.
It has to be said though that this game shouldn’t really be happening. In the first match, we went 2-0 up early doors and really seemed to have Chelsea on the ropes but instead of landing the knockout punch, we backed off, allowed Chelsea to clear their heads and get right back into the tie.
Almost everyone agrees that we are lucky to still be in this competition at this point.
Fergie put that performance down to mental fatigue, claiming the players had still not got over the Champions League exit against Real Madrid. There doesn’t seem to be any excuse for something similar today.
We’ve just come back from an International break and many of the players who will start today didn’t play against Sunderland so surely fatigue can’t be used as an excuse.
I’m not going to over-analyse the game today. We know what to expect from Chelsea. They may well have gone to Southampton and got turned over but they’ll be up for this one and I expect the trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar to be just as dangerous today as they were in the first match.
It is likely to be another close match with goals for both sides and that is going to form the basis of my bet.
I’m sure that the United players, just like the fans, have spent the last few days being torn between looking forwards to what could still end up being a stellar season and looking back at that moment in the Champions League but days like today remind you that there really is no point in looking back now.
The referee may or may not have cost us a place in the Champions League Quarter-Final but we should be damned if we’ll let him cost us a place in the FA Cup Semi-Final, too.
All focus will surely have been on Chelsea and nothing else for the last couple of days and it certainly will be come 4:30pm this afternoon.
This is actually a very good fixture for us following the events of midweek because it reminds us that there is still very much to play for this season – it isn’t over by a long chalk.
So… how will the hurt of Tuesday effect us? Will we vent our frustrations on Chelsea and obliterate them? I hope so.
Earlier in the season, Chelsea looked very much like they were going to be well and truly in the mix for the Premier League title again but the usual inner turmoil of yet another managerial change derailed them and their season has gone from one mini-disaster to another for the last few months.
They’re still in the Europa League but I get the impression that, like most clubs who enter that competition who are more accustomed to Champions League football, they don’t really want it.
I would say that this FA Cup now represents their only chance of silverware now this season so they arrive with a huge incentive to get a result here today.
Games between ourselves and Chelsea have always been close affairs and I wouldn’t expect today to be any different. This being the FA Cup, form usually does go out of the window and, as Fergie said in his press conference the other day, Chelsea have a far better record than us in this competition over the last ten years or so.
Regardless of the rifts within the club between the manager, the fans and the owner, the Chelsea players always seem to pull together well when Manchester United are on the field and I wouldn’t expect any difference today.
We’re in for a game and it could be a cracker.
As always, I just hope for a good, clean game where the winner is decided by the skill of the players on the pitch.
I have a feeling that this could end up being another niggly affair though and refereeing decisions could well end up being influential.
I think we’ll see goals again this afternoon. After years of what seemed like constant 1-0 victories either way, recent games between ourselves and Chelsea have exploded into goal fests.
I’m not going to get too fancy with the prediction though. I think we’ll win here this afternoon.
Fergie has already said that he will be making several changes to the starting XI for this one and, whilst he usually keeps his cards close to his chest, I see no reason to disbelieve him on this occasion.
For one reason or another, a couple of our players have become almost forgotten men for much of this season (I’m talking of Young and Nani here) and I would expect them to feature tonight, if fit together with Hernandez who has also seen his appearances cut to the bone since the arrival of RVP.
What will be interesting to see is how Reading will shape up for this one.
Despite currently sitting in the Premier League’s relegation zone, they have actually been on a decent run in recent weeks so this one could either be seen as one to really boost the confidence if it goes well or one to set them back if it goes badly.
In many ways, both managers “win” either way tonight.
If we go out, we can fully concentrate on the Premier League and Champions League and Fergie will be able to say to all those players who have been on the fringes this season that they’ve proven him right to overlook them for others.
If Reading go out, they will be able to fully focus on PL survival in the full knowledge that there’s no disgrace in going to OT and getting beaten.
Of course, for us, the FA Cup is now becoming more important for us with our seemingly unassailable position in the Premier League in that it could form part of another Double or… dare I say it (again)… Treble.
I think the ingredients are there for another pretty open game between us. Perhaps not on a par with the crazy seven-goal first half we played against them in December at their place – especially as Fergie now seems to have got to grips with our leaky defence – but it could see plenty of chances for both sides.
Much depends here on Reading’s ambition and the defensive line-up that Fergie goes for but I do think that Coral are a bit out of line with their pricing of the Both Teams to Score market so that’s going to be the bet.
After scraping through against West Ham in the last round, we now face another Premier League team in the fourth round.
I’ve already said that this United are showing similarities to the treble winning side of ’99 and I seem to remember that we had to do all competitions the hard way that season too. This season is clearly giving us absolutely nothing the easy way, too.
The good news is that whilst Fulham have done us a couple of times at their place in recent years, their record at OT is poor (although we’ve had to work hard for our last couple of wins).
Those were all in the league though and this is the FA Cup where anything can, and often does, happen.
I still expect us to come through this one today though. The way we battled through to get to this stage of the competition said everything we need to know about our desire to lift this cup again.
We’ve had plenty of rest since the Tottenham game and there’s a good four days until our next Premier League match so I don’t expect Fergie to go overboard with the changes for this one.
Rooney and Nani were both given a return against Spurs and whilst Rooney still hasn’t hit the heights, at least he seems to be trying. Nani looked quite disinterested to me and I suspect his days at United are now numbered.
Anyway, as I said, I do expect us to settle this one today – another replay would be quite disastrous at this stage of the season – but I suspect it might be another slog that is required of us to do so.
The bookies seem to think we will win this fairly comfortably and a 2-0 wouldn’t be out of the question. However, I think it will be another close one and that forms the basis of my bet.
The bet is 2 points Fulham +1.5 AH @ 2.07 with BetVictor.
Most people would be forgiven for thinking that Fergie doesn’t rank this competition too highly in his priorities given how most of our recent campaigns have ended with a whimper – largely because Fergie himself has tinkered with the team to the extent that it more closely resembles a reserve fixture but I think the way Fergie responded to us being on the verge of being knocked out last week (bringing on RVP) said a lot.
RVP’s own last gasp equaliser and the team’s reaction to it spoke another volume.
Incidentally, whilst there have been some cracking goals so far this season, I think Van Persie’s equalising goal has to be a major contender for goal of the season and, had it been scored in the Premier League, I am sure a lot more fuss would have been made over it. It truly was a thing of beauty and only a handful of players in the world could have done what he did to score that goal.
Anyway. Onto tonight…
Things don’t look too good for Sam Allardyce and his team at this moment in time and I really think that their chance to progress in this competition went begging when they allowed us to equalise last week.
Defensively, West Ham seem to be struggling for fit players and Big Sam has said as much himself.
Old Trafford is not the kind of place you want to be visiting when under-strength defensively and even more so this season when we are scoring goals for fun.
The rumour is that Rooney could make his comeback from injury tonight and so I would expect him to start if that is the case. RVP will surely be given a much-needed rest so I would expect Hernandez to start as well but Welbeck instead of Rooney wouldn’t come as enormous surprise.
A return for Nani also looks to be on the cards and it has to be hoped that he can recapture the great form we know he’s capable of with the season now coming very much towards the business end.
In all, I do expect Fergie to make quite a few changes to the team tonight. The game against Liverpool did take its toll on the “first team” and Fergie will no doubt want as many of those as possible to be fresh for the Tottenham match this weekend. However, I still think we will prove too strong for West Ham.
That we want to win this tournament is now beyond question. At any other time, I would have said that the last thing Fergie would have wanted was a replay but it appears that a complete exit from the FA Cup was the last thing he wanted.
So, if a replay is the second-last thing he would have wanted then a replay which we lose would all seem largely pointless. He will be picking a team to beat West Ham tonight and I expect us to do just that.
The bookies think we will win this one at a canter and that there will be loads of goals. I’m not too sure.
The potential return of Rooney and Nani is exciting but it could go either way. They could hit the ground running and tear West Ham to pieces or they might look a bit rusty.
Given the price on offer, I think it would be sensible to go with the possibility that this one may not be as high-scoring as some people think. I am fully aware that Sam Allardyce is bemoaning his defensive options but I’ve seen supposedly under-strength defenses come to OT before, park the bus, put their bodies on the line and goalkeepers have the game of their lives. It could happen tonight.
The bet, therefore, is going to be 2 points UNDER 2.5 goals @ 2.80 with BetVictor.
Manchester United v Middlesbrough
Wednesday, 28th October 2015
Champions League 2015-16
Group Stage - Group B
Group Stage Matches
15/09/2015 - PSV 2 - 1 Man Utd
30/09/2015 - Man Utd 2 - 1 Wolfsburg
21/10/2015 - CSKA 1 - 1 Man Utd
03/11/2015 - Man Utd v CSKA
25/11/2015 - Man Utd v PSV
08/12/2015 - Wolfsburg v Man Utd
League Cup 2015-16
3rd Round 23/09/2015 - Man Utd 3 - 0 Ipswich
4th Round W/C 26/10/2015 - Man Utd v Middlesbrough