Sean Gregan’s exclusive column: Preston’s players will be eager for return to action

Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen
Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen

The Preston North End squad will have enjoyed a few days off during the international break but I wager they can’t wait to get back playing again.

They won three on the bounce leading up to the break and resume action second in the table which is no mean feat.

So this week they would have been counting down the days to facing Derby, the start of a busy schedule which doesn’t let up until January.

It’s a bit hard to predict what Derby will offer at Pride Park, they are a side who have tended to be up in the play-off mix – they were beaten finalists last May.

But Frank Lampard left in the summer to become Chelsea manager and two of the players he had on loan at Derby last season are now playing regularly with him and winning England caps.

It might be one of those games where if North End make a nice quick start, they could have a good afternoon against a side perhaps lacking a bit of confidence.

How Alex Neil decides to play at Derby will be interesting.

He has a horses for courses approach and will change things to suit a particular game which is no bad thing. I like that in a manager.

Obviously Pep Guardiola is only going to play one way at Manchester City because he has the best players in the world there.

When you are battling to get out of the Championship though, you need different approaches up your sleeve.

If your game plan hasn’t worked for 60 minutes, why carry on with it for the next half hour?

It was interesting to read the comments of Charlton manager Lee Bowyer after Preston won there a few weeks ago.

He seemed surprised that PNE had gone more direct and that his players hadn’t been able to cope with that.

How many other managers are unsure how Preston will play in the build-up to facing them?

Neil has some versatile players which allows him to change approach.

Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen to name just two, can play all across the front line. They are not just a centre forward or a winger, they are asked to adapt to different situations.

We’ve seen Maguire play most of the time coming in off the left, while Barkhuizen has operated on the wing and down the middle as a striker.

When I played at Preston, it was more of a case of sticking to your position. We had Jon Macken who was an out-and-out No.9, you wouldn’t have asked him to play anywhere else.

The big national football news of the week was Jose Mourinho being appointed as Tottenham manager.

It is a bit of a strange one because Jose likes to buy big, buy ready-made. Spurs don’t tend to do that, they sign players and polish them up.

Mauricio Pochettino will be back in a job once he’s had a break. I’m sure there are plenty of Manchester United fans who would like to see him at Old Trafford.

He can afford to wait and see what comes up rather than dive straight in.