By Teng Kiat
“It won’t happen again,” Sir Alex Ferguson said with a steely look in his eyes when reminded of the 4-4 home draw with Everton last season during a BBC interview, prior to his side’s meeting with the same opponents on Sunday night.
The Manchester United manager had told United Review that the game – where they threw away a 4-2 lead – was the one where the Red Devils lost the title to Manchester City and true to his word, there was no repeat of that late collapse as they ran out comfortable 2-0 victors at Old Trafford.
It was not the most flawless of performances, but the determined nature of the win, as well as Ferguson’s ‘it won’t happen again’ statement, can be seen as a microcosm of United’s Premier League campaign so far: the men from the red half of Manchester will not condone a repeat of last season’s celebratory scenes from the blue side of town.
Skipper Nemanja Vidic and young Phil Jones best epitomized this spirit against the visiting Toffees. The Serbian was a colossus at the back as he leapt highest to deal with every aerial ball that came his way, and his best moment came when he threw himself in front of a goal-bound attempt during a goalmouth scramble. Meanwhile Jones, who was specially deployed to man-mark dangerman Marouane Fellaini, stuck to the Belgian like a leech throughout and nullified the afro-haired midfielder completely.
Elsewhere in defence there was a second successive clean sheet for David de Gea, who made two good saves when called upon and also showed assuredness when coming for crosses. Right-back Rafael had a storming game as he continues to go from strength to strength in an impressive season; the Brazilian has improved the defensive aspect of his game tremendously and has also added an extra dimension to United’s attack when they go forward. That was exemplified by his third assist of the season, an incisive through ball for Robin van Persie to score the second goal.
That was the Dutchman’s 19th league goal of the season, scored with his right foot after rounding Tim Howard; he had hit the post with a similar attempt from a tighter angle earlier on. The striker, bought from Arsenal for £24million as Ferguson insisted that the title would never be lost on goal difference again, seems to have taken his game to another level at his new club and has undoubtedly been a key component of United’s ascent to the top of the league.
Before that, a very familiar name had calmed the early nerves in the crowd with the opening goal, shortly after Van Persie’s effort had struck the woodwork. The timeless maestro otherwise known as Ryan Giggs calmly shifted the ball from left foot to right after collecting a Van Persie pass as opposing defenders around him lost their heads, before coolly curling a low shot that went in off the right post.
That strike made the 39-year-old the only man to score in each of the 21 Premier League seasons that have been played, in addition to two earlier league campaigns before that. That tallies up to an incredible 23 consecutive seasons, all of in which he has donned a Manchester United shirt.
The longevity of both the veteran Welshman and his manager is remarkable, as is the latter’s desire to win even as he enters his 27th year in the Old Trafford dugout. With Real Madrid looming in the Champions League on Thursday, the Scotsman decided against his initial plan of making seven changes to the team that won at Fulham last week. In the end he settled for four, deciding it was imperative to try and take advantage of City's slip-up at Southampton a day before.
In contrast, compatriot David Moyes was the seventh manager to lead an Everton team out at Old Trafford in the Premier League era and he admitted afterward that they had lost to a side that played ‘as if they meant it’.
“I have not been able to say that many times ‘cause just about every team we’ve played this season, we have been as good as [them],” Moyes told the BBC. “But I thought Manchester United were better than us today.”
Indeed, with 21 wins out of 26 games so far, Ferguson’s men have been better than most teams in the Premier League. As of now they are in the driving seat for a 20th title, with a 12-point chasm existing between them and a City side that looked like anything but defending champions during their 3-1 loss at St. Mary's.
While there is still some time before the medals are given out in May, one gets the feeling that the Red Devils will not slip up in this title bid and that what will happen again is the sight of the Premier League trophy being adorned in red and white ribbons.