Five things we learned from Manchester United's stuttering win over Preston
It's time to abandon the Radamel Falcao experiment, United are too ponderous in possession, and Ander Herrera belatedly comes good
1. Ander Herrera's creativity makes a difference to this side
Ander Herrera has become the poster boy of the terrace critics who believe that Louis van Gaal has taken the style and panache out of Manchester United, but against Preston, the Spaniard made his first start since the third round tie against Yeovil and he made a difference.
The £28.8million summer signing from Athletic Bilbao takes risks with his passes and, as a consequence, loses possession too often for Van Gaal.
But in a game lacking flair and creativity, Herrera at least attempted to carve open the Preston defence with forward passes and attempts at interplay with the forwards.
2. United are too slow to worry opponents
Under van Gaal, Manchester United are simply too slow and ponderous to get behind the opposition.
Watching United going forward is like attempting to get online through a dial-up connection – painstaking, frustrating and, more often than not, nothing to show for it.
Considering United possess the electric pace of Angel di Maria, Van Gaal should be able to rectify this persistent flaw.
But there was no sign of progress as Preston comfortably dealt with United’s attacking forays.
3. Time to abandon the Falcao experiment
Radamel Falcao arrived at Old Trafford as a box office signing last August, but the Colombian has been a flop in a United shirt and he has now had enough chances to come good.
A cruciate ligament injury suffered while playing for Monaco 13 months ago has clearly taken the edge off Falcao’s game and he now cannot even affect a game against League One opponents.
The 29-year-old has netted just four goals in 19 appearances for United and it was no coincidence that their attacking threat increased when Falcao was replaced by Ashley Young.
4. Fellaini needs to be used wisely
Marouane Fellaini has resurrected a Manchester United career which appeared dead and buried after his first season at the club, but the Belgian is now as much part of the problem as the solution for Van Gaal.
Fellaini makes it too easy for United to take the direct option instead of a more cultured build-up and it was the same old story at Deepdale.
As against West Ham United recently, Fellaini made a crucial late contribution at Preston, scoring the decisive goal.
But Van Gaal must avoid allowing the long ball to Fellaini to become the preferred option.
5. United against Arsenal is the blockbuster tie this FA Cup deserves
This season’s FA Cup has been a vintage year, with each round throwing up shocks and unlikely heroes, but it needed a heavyweight clash like United versus Arsenal in the quarter-finals to add to its lustre.
United have come through tricky trips to lower league opponents in Yeovil, Cambridge and Preston and now they must face the holders at Old Trafford.
It will be a seismic clash and, with Steven Gerrard’s birthday falling on cup final day, United will be determined to ensure the Liverpool captain does not get his perfect send-off if the Merseysiders make it to Wembley.