In the end it didn’t take the whole year to go away. You know, that sting from watching that last minute goal in the final match that gave City the Championship. And in the end, City gave up their claim with not a roar, but a whimper.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Rafael – Jones – Evans – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Giggs
Aston Villa Starting XI:
Lowton – Vlaar – Baker – Westwood
Delph – Weimann
Agbonlahor – Benteke – Bennett
Sir Alex said after last year’s disappointment that his club would not lose the championship again to goal differential, and he out bid City for Robin van Persie to help his cause.
As is relatively common knowledge, United have always reclaimed the Championship every time they have finished second in the table, and they have done it again. After City’s stunning defeat to Spurs on Sunday - giving United the opportunity to clinch on Monday - it was apparent United wanted to finish this one off and not wait for that last Sunday again.
That is not to say this was an easy campaign, and not nearly as easy as the table would have you believe. Last year’s player of the year Antonio Valencia has not had anywhere near the success he had last year, and Wayne Rooney has had to adjust his game and, frankly, his attitude to accommodate the addition of Robin van Persie to the squad. Nani has been basically non-existent, and Ashley Young is having a pretty severe sophomore slump.
It also took a bit of the season to get their defense together. At the halfway mark, they had given up 28 goals. Second half? 7.
Of course they have done some things well too. Carrick has been outstanding and is on the short list for PFA’s Player of the Year – along with RVP. Ferdinand, Rafael, and Vidic have been stalwarts - especially Vidic, whose return from an injury coincided with the emergence of the defensive improvement. Add to that the bigger, more experienced David De Gea growing into his role as United’s number 1 keeper and the defensive improvement should have been easy to predict.
And then there was van Persie, who with his 24 goals is the new face of Manchester United. From Sir Alex, “He’s turned out better than any of us thought. He has kicked on from Arsenal, a much better player now from when he was there.”
There is a second side to this coin – Manchester City. City is down six points from where they were at this point last year. Even if they had the same point total, they would still be down 10 to United. And frankly, even if they had those points it would do them no good in my opinion. The real difference is, as pointed out by even City manager Roberto Mancini, the attitude on the red side of Manchester. According to Mancini, while he is dealing with newspapers printing stories about who is not being picked, the United squad have a real sense that Sir Alex knows what he is doing and that he usually gets it right - as his 13 Barclay’s Premier League titles show. 13. No one else has more than 3. And he has some familiar faces to share this with. Giggs has earned a medal for every one, and Scholes is right on his heels with 11.
The match? Well, RVP scored a hat-trick in the first half with some personal brilliance and some magnificent passes from Giggs and Rooney. The second goal in particular was absolutely stunning. Rooney put a 45-yard pass from the other side of the midline over the shoulder of RVP and on to his left foot – on a dime – which he then thumped into the goal before anyone in claret and blue even had a chance to react. Guzan stood there after the goal with his best ”What the hell am I supposed to do to stop that?” look.
De Gea was credited with yet another clean sheet, which now ties United with Liverpool for second in the league with 13. Frankly this match was over at the kickoff when the Red Devils came out with an attitude that said, “We’re glad you’re here, but get ready for an ass kicking.” Which they promptly administered for the entire first half.
I am not sure how this squad will compare with some of the other championship squads, although they have already scored more points than the treble winning squad of ’95. I do know that I admire this squad for their absolute focus and gritty backbone, and for me personally, number 20 is a special one.
Manchester Scorecard (0-10):
David De Gea
Rafael da Silva
Robin van Persie