By En Lim | Goal.com Singapore
For a usually proud and defiant Sir Alex Ferguson to come out publicly to say that “we were lucky”, highlights the extent of how his Manchester United team literally rode the ‘luck of the Irish’ in grabbing all three points against Fulham last evening.
This is a story that United fans are all too familiar with - three points gained, top of the league, but that was one heck of a lucky win.
But as football folklore goes, this is the mark of champions; to win game after game without having to play the most attractive type of football in the world. Three points is all that matters at the end of the day, and it takes the Red Devils one step closer to title number 20.
Marred by incidents aplenty, it was certainly not a vintage United performance. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini must have been cursing and frantically waving an imaginary red card in his seat, as referee Michael Oliver made a dubious call in not awarding Fulham a legitimate penalty in the last minute of the match, after Michael Carrick appeared to have bundled Danny Murphy over in the penalty box.
As United hung on by the skin of their teeth for three precious points thanks to Wayne Rooney’s 28th goal of the season, three things in particular stood out:
1. Antonio Valencia and Jonny Evans are proving to be indispensable in this last lap of the season.
Probably in the form of their life, both Valencia and Evans are proving to be indispensable at the moment and are definitely the first two names on the team sheet for the remaining games of the the season.
Valencia has had a storming season on the right flank, and his timely return from injury has sparked United’s attacking play into life. The Ecuadorian is certainly making the £16 million spent on him look like a bargain.
Similarly, for Jonny Evans, perhaps the pressure of having to live up to a legendary jersey number has gotten to him, and the young defender has come of age at the right time. Nemanja Vidic’s presence and experience has been sorely missed, but Evans’ performances this season have alleviated Vidic’s absence.
Evans’ career has been fraught with criticism and in recent times, he has had to live with the tag of ‘the one whom United should have sold’ instead of Gerard Pique who has gone on to become a Barcelona defensive stalwart. But the Northern Irish centreback is starting to repay Ferguson’s (blind) faith, and along with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, will go on to form the backbone of the Manchester United defensive line for seasons to come.
2. Manchester United only knows how to win the title one way - the most difficult way possible.
History will show that since the early 2000s, Manchester United has never won the League in the most comfortable manner except for the 2002/03 season when it won by 10 points over Arsenal.
The Red Devils seem to perform best when under pressure and it is seemingly in the players’ DNA to want to make life difficult and win in the most dramatic fashion possible to grab the headlines for the day.
But it is this never-say-die, never-give-up till the end attitude ingrained that wins titles.
The Red Devils are (in)famous for turning games into their favour by either scoring in the dying seconds or grittily holding on to an undeserved victory. This inbuilt mentality is what makes Manchester United champions time and again and last night, this once again came to the fore.
3. The Red Devils’ midfield is sorely lacking yet games have been won.
Even though the old guard of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes has done quite a remarkable job in holding fort in the centre of the midfield so far this seaosn, one thing is for sure, the United midfield needs fresh blood.
The big hole in the Manchester United midfield needs no elaboration. In short, United have been lacking in creative options this entire season, and last evening’s game served another reminder.
The next great hope of Tom Cleverley has not panned out the way Ferguson might have hoped. Beset with niggly injury woes, Cleverley who started the season brightly and banished all talks of United needing a creative midfielder, succumbed to one too many injuries and has failed to make an impact since his return. No doubt that he has the natural ability to succeed, Cleverley needs to regain match fitness first before great things can be expected of him.
Ferguson probably needs no such reminders too, judging from his recent scouting trip to Lille to look at Belgain sensation Eden Hazard and rumours that Benfica’s Nicolas Gaitan might sign for the club. These are are exciting young prospects who could potentially become superstars should they join the Red Devils, and as a fan, one can only hope the rumours will materialise in reality.
All in all, United appears to have stumbled, but they still remain atop the League table. And in a game where points and position matters more than form and style, it does appear to be advantage, Manchester United, going into the last nine games of the season.
It is their title to lose.