By Harsh Shah
20 league titles. 13 Premier League triumphs. 5 of them in the last 7 years. And the league won with four games to go.
Manchester United supporters could not have asked for a better reversal than this one after the noisy neighbours stole the title from their grasp in the dying embers of last campaign. This time out in a season during which it all seemingly went the right way for Sir Alex Ferguson's men, there were times which required the Red Devils to dig deep and come up with what defines champions and the stuff they are made of.
It wasn't all rosy for the Red half of Manchester. There were instances when they were given a run for their money and were forced to grind out results against stern oppositions. Playing like a true European force, their tactics were spot on, on more occasions than not, which proved to be instrumental in putting out the challenges of many a fierce competitors in the English top-flight.
Much to Arsenal's disgustful dismay, Robin Van Persie opted to jump ship and move to United in search of Premier League glory. He made his intent clear by going for the No. 20 jersey, stating his wish to help the Red Devils to a 20th league title. Another summer recruit was to be Shinji Kagawa from former German champions Borussia Dortmund, set to bolster the attacking half of midfield.
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Let's face it - Still this isn't Sir Alex's greatest United squad. But then he is Sir Alex Ferguson for a reason. Being the shrewd tactician and ever-hungry master that he is, the 71-year old wily Scotsman stuck to his guns and saw things turn his side's way just about at the right time.
To start with in August itself, United's squad strength came under question. After losing to Everton 1-0 away in the season's opener, United lost Wayne Rooney to a deep gash on his thigh in the next game at home to Fulham. That's when the Dutchman Van Persie assumed the mantle of the club's talisman and went on to score an array of goals which kept United going through the motions despite their custodian David De Gea having an unstable time in goal with the defence too not as resolute as it would be under Ferguson. But the forward line was firing on all cylinders which just about got the job done at that time. An acute blend of attacking prowess and variety upfront did the trick.
The attacking depth again came to the fore in one of the season's crucial matches against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October. In a match that saw the Blues finish with 9 men, Chicharito nicked the winner for the Red Devils in a 3-2 thriller. This was also the time when the manager showed his intent to juggle with United's formation by playing a diamond midfield with the returning Rooney at its attacking tip against Newcastle.
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Sir Alex had to resort to such tactics so as to keep rotating his squad with his team contesting in four competitions in total. Also, keeping four forwards happy was always going to be a challenge with Sir Alex testing Rooney in midfield and trying to add a new dimension early on in the season. It would turn out to be a move well documented given Rooney's immaculate lofted pass from midfield to Van Persie against Aston Villa last night which the former Feyenoord man converted to score one of the goals of the season.
The other newbie Kagawa has had an on-off season with the Japanese international amazing on a few occasions and mediocre at other times. His relative inability at fitting into the English Premier League meant Rooney's role in midfield was all the more important. Also, Sir Alex even deployed Danny Welbeck, the rising youngster in a free-roaming role behind Van Persie on quite a few occasions.
Hernandez was to be the proverbial super-sub for United this season as he came off the bench and fired the team on on quite a few occasions, with the most outstanding of such cameos coming at Villa Park as the Mexican came on in the second half and scored a quickfire double in what was to be yet another sensational 3-2 comeback victory.
The defence proved to be a worrying factor for the United faithful for a major part of the season. With Nemanja Vidic out for the initial few months alongwith Phil Jones too on the sidelines, Jonny Evans had to step up to the occasion.
In this aspect, Michael Carrick was absolutely vital to United's cause. The England midfielder was the perfect holding presence for them as he did most of the dirty work in the middle of the park, providing the required thrust from the back too on most occasions. With Anderson not performing on the top level and Darren Fletcher out with a prolonged illness, Carrick was the rock in the center. Also, this season saw the emergence of a youth product in Tom Cleverley to the first-team, again testimony to the Red Devils' super-talented youth setup. Notable again here is the far reaches United make into their manpower's reserves to get the job done.
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As the new year dawned, United's goalkeeper alongwith his defence starting finding its feet with every game. As United beat Manchester City 3-2 away from home in what might now be sighted as a turning point in the title race, Sir Alex's side had again seen a turn in their fortunes with the team starting to click in all departments of the pitch. The win over City alongwith the versatility shown by the squad saw United open up a 12-point lead over the Citizens come end of February.
A special mention needs to go by all means to Ryan Giggs, who has won all of United's 13 Premier League crowns, a statistic which baffles even the best of the best out there. The 39-year old Welshman has been energetic and ironically youthful this season with his latest flowing display witnessed in the title-decider against Aston Villa with the former playing a role in two of Van Persie's 3 goals!
If allowed to put it this way, Manchester United's season has been uncharacteristically characteristic as they have now won yet another league title, increasing their overall lead over Liverpool to two triumphs.
An astounding fact: United have had 19 different goalscorers in the league this season despite Van Persie himself scoring 24 goals now! So somehow or the other, the goals just keep flowing for them.
All said and done, Manchester United have thoroughly deserved the title. Sir Alex's tactical acumen was at its exemplary best as he had his sights set on wrestling the title back from the blue half of the city. And when the Scot has sights set on something, he ends up making the target his own 9 out of 10 times. This has been one such time as the phenomenon that is Manchester United has once again climbed atop the much coveted roost of English football.
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