By David Lynch
It is hard to believe that Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal for Manchester City last season could take on greater significance, but the aftershocks of that cataclysmic strike are quite clearly still being felt 26 games into this campaign.
The Argentine’s last-gasp goal did not just end City’s 44-year title drought, or underline their status as a genuine threat to their local rivals’ dominance. It also made the most talented and astutely managed squad in England angry, as Manchester United’s unmatched hunger for trophies increased ten-fold in one swing of a gifted right boot.
This was never more evident than during United’s latest victory, a 2-0 win against Everton at Old Trafford which stretched their lead at the summit to 12 points. Sunday’s fixture against the Toffees represented so much more than the visit of the league’s sixth-placed side, United still bear the scars of recent meetings with the Merseyside club.
United's last six PL matches
|Feb 10||Man Utd 2-0 Everton
||Fulham 0-1 Man Utd|
||Man Utd 2-1 Southampton
||Tottenham 1-1 Man Utd
||Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool
||Wigan 0-4 Man Utd
But if the hosts were out for revenge, it did not tell in the manner of their victory on Sunday. This was not a win built on bluster or crazed, aimless running, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side instead went about their business in a frighteningly clinical way.
They did, as they have on so many occasions this season, just enough. Two goals were required for a comfortable victory and, once they had been secured with little effort expended, all life was strangled from a second half which will not live long in the memory. It played out exactly as Ferguson would have wanted it to, if not the fans.
Wayne Rooney often popped up as the last line of defence despite his starting position up front, whilst 22-year-old Rafael da Silva nullified the usually unstoppable double threat of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines. Marouane Fellaini, a towering presence during Everton’s last trip to Old Trafford, was completely subdued by a masterful tactical performance from the hosts.
Clearly, every harsh lesson dished out by last season’s crushing loss of the title has been learned, every error corrected.
The theme of this season for United - one of a repetitive, ruthless racking up of results – is undoubtedly built on a foundation of experience. Only a handful of the Red Devils’ current squad have not won a league title before and, with those having come within 30 seconds of doing so last term, all know exactly what is required.
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Just 13 points have been dropped so far this season, an incredible statistic borne out of an absurd amount of desire and undeniable quality. To come so close to winning the league and then adding the country’s most deadly marksman over the summer certainly helps, and makes talk of Manchester City’s problems seem irrelevant. Even had Roberto Mancini’s side been at their best, it is hard to believe they could have caught the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is United this term.
A collapse which far supersedes last season’s is now required for Manchester United to surrender their lead at the summit, an eventuality which is unforeseeable given their recent run of form. And so the only relevant question which remains is whether or not Sir Alex can mastermind another treble victory.
If the wily Scot can do so, it would be in no small part thanks to the events which took place at the Etihad Stadium on May 13, 2012.
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