Four of the biggest talking points of Preston North End's pre-season so far

Preston North End's pre-season continues to develop, with them closing in on the start of the 2021/22 Championship season.

Sunday, 25th July 2021, 12:30 pm
Captain Alan Browne on his return to action, alongside Sean Maguire.

The Lilywhites have so far registered wins against Bamber Bridge and Celtic, with draws against St Johnstone and Accrington Stanley, losing to Bolton Wanderers

There have already been some highs and lows in pre-season so far, losing Izzy Brown for the majority of the upcoming campaign due to an achilles injury a big low, whilst beating giants Celtic at their own ground is a feather in the cap.

There are still two huge games against Manchester City and and Manchester United to come, as well as a Friday evening at the DW to face Wigan Athletic.

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Frankie McAvoy is constantly learning as the summer goes on as he looks to settle on a team for the first game of the season against Hull City.

A tale of two teams...

Each summer, as teams gear up for the new season, you see what would be considered bizarre team selections should it be a competitive match.

That can be players playing out of position, a bit of a funny or off-balance formation or some unusual combinations of players playing alongside each other.

It's not very often that a player with 100 league appearances has no one else around him in double figures, but that can happen in pre-season at clubs up and down the country.

There is also the puzzle for fans of 'what will our starting XI look like this season?'

As pre-season has gone on so far, it's probably the earliest that I've seen a clear 'first XI' develop for many years. Barring one or two changes, the first team in this PNE squad is quite clear to see.

For those unsure, see the final 30 minutes of the game against Bolton. Aside from potentially Matthew Olosunde, who has to prove his fitness, the skipper Browne, who is now back fit, and one striker that is not Ched Evans, it seems the North End team is there for all to see.

That is a gauntlet laid down to members of the squad who do not find themselves in that XI, with Daniel Johnson exempt for being on international duty - though the trio of Ben Whiteman, Ryan Ledson and Alan Browne may be a tough one to disrupt.

Does it suggest that the depth in the squad isn't up to the right level, or that the first team is just that strong? Only time will tell as the competitive action begins and rotation is required.

What year is it?

In being able to predict what North End's best possible XI is at the moment, it would include a full team of players who were at the club at the end of last season.

So far there have been four new signings at Deepdale this summer, of those, two are completely new faces.

Matthew Olosunde and Izzy Brown are new to PR1, but the former is currently nursing an injury that has meant limited game time and the latter unfortunately suffered a long term injury that will rule him out for most of the season.

Liam Lindsay made a permanent return whilst Sepp van den Berg is back for a second loan spell.

Whilst four signings is not bad going, there isn't much there to inject new life into the squad. New faces keep others on their toes, adds excitement and a different factor into the group.

Through no fault of his own, Brown will now largely be away from the group and it's hard for a right back otherwise to galvanise a squad.

PNE are working on brining in a striker, which would add something fresh, but McAvoy will be hoping that the consistency from one season to the next will play into their favour.

The aim each summer is to come out of the transfer window with a better squad than you entered it with, so far it can't quite be said that that is the case - but it is not over yet and by the end of August the outlook could be entirely different.

Hot and Cold...

After a bit of back and forth with the pitch at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, PNE opened their friendlies with a win over Bamber Bridge, 8-3. Not much could be taken from that win but the 1-1 draw with St Johnstone which was a bit uninspiring had some fans concerned.

Then, the Lilywhites went on to beat Celtic 1-0 at Celtic Park - no matter the circumstances, a fine result.

They looked good and were good value for the victory, it looked like a platform to build on that could lead to some top stuff as they found full fitness.

They lost their next game 1-0 to League One Bolton Wanderers - who themselves were good value for the victory.

Accrington provided a good test for PNE, who were lukewarm in East Lancashire.

They've played so far in the preparations but they have also certainly played better. Not awful, not great, a middle of the road showing where the defence were decent, they didn't create much and the most excitement came from a Bamber Bridge trialist. Jamie Thomas took his headed goal well to put them into the lead.

With the make up of the team changing little - in that the two rotated XI's have largely been the same - it seems to be a question of which version of each team will turn up on the day. Hopefully that unpredictability is ironed out over the course of the final three games.

It's not over...

There are still three games to go, this is not the finished article that will approach the new Championship season.

We will of course reflect on what has come so far, predict what is to come and give opinions on where PNE are at the moment, but it's not all that matters.

Frankie McAvoy and his team still have two more weeks to get their side ready, two more weeks with fitter and stronger players as each day passes. He will also hopefully have Olosunde back from injury soon and potentially some new faces in the building too.

A lot can change in a short space of time and these games are not being treated the same as McAvoy's first eight in charge - these are times to experiment and to get a look at different things. It's also about shaking off the rustiness and finding the rhythm of last season where they were tough to beat, defensively strong and taking their chances.

More will come from this group - and that's without thinking that they have the best two teams in the country from last season to come!

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