Manchester United knew that retaining their Premier League crown was going to be harder than it had been the previous seasons. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo would have been a kick in the teeth to any club’s ambition.
To make matters worse Tevez left for bitter rivals Man City which meant that Rooney was the sole survivor of the famous ‘Holy Trinity’ which led United to phenomenal success in the past two terms. As the season progressed, the set-backs came thick and fast for Sir Alex’s men but they have done brilliantly to reach the position they currently find themselves in.
United’s results against Burnley, Bolton and Liverpool were ample proof that they were finding it hard to break teams down and maintain any sort of consistency in their performances. While Valencia seemed too one-dimensional, Obertan was still recovering from an injury and Owen’s performances were ineffectual (except the Man City winner of course).
To add to this, the form of two key players, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick was underwhelming to say the least. Scholes too admitted to the press that he was not satisfied with the performances he was putting in. Both Nani and Anderson failed to live up to the huge expectation surrounding them when they arrived and were frustratingly inconsistent for most of the campaign.
With Edwin van der Sar injured, Ben Foster (initially tipped for England’s World Cup squad by some) put in one disastrous performance after another and was ultimately replaced by Kuszczak who later received praise from both, the manager and van der Sar.
By December, United were faced with an almost unprecedented injury crisis. United had 8-9 defenders injured for some matches in that month and at one point against West Ham their back four read – Fletcher Carrick Evra Giggs. Expectedly, the team dropped points with poor results against Fulham, Villa and Birmingham affecting their League campaign while the loss to Leeds ending their pursuit of the F.A. Cup.
Further gloom surrounded Old Trafford when the true state of United’s finances were brought to the public fore. This was followed by a series of media speculations about solutions and takeovers. The despondent fans started the Green and Gold Movement to protest against the Glazers. Green and Gold scarves are a common sight in ‘Theatre of Dreams’ now.
Although there doesn’t seem to be an immediate end to the financial issues, United’s misfortunes have retracted in the past couple of weeks. The credit for that, as for all the right things United have done this season, goes to Wayne Rooney. It was his injury time goal to send United through to the finals of the Carling Cup and silence the ‘noisy neighbours’,(for the time-being) that galvanized the team and electrified the fans. From then on the team put up the ‘performance of the season’ to completely outclass Arsenal and then drubbed Portsmouth by five goals.
Also, the new 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation Sir Alex has deployed for the big games seems to be working wonders. Nani has put in some astonishing performances in the past few games. In fact his form has been so good he has kept Valencia out of the team, probably their most consistent performer after Rooney this season. Equally important is the fact that Michael Carrick seems to have regained his form and confidence, both lacking since the Barcelona game. Not only is Rio Ferdinand fit again after a long injury lay-off he has also been handed the national team’s captaincy, certain to invigorate a player whose place in the team was being questioned by some critics.
The news is good not just from within the club. As unfortunate it may be for football in general, it’s a blessing for United that while Terry is facing a personal life crisis, Ashley Cole is out with an injury for at least 3- months. Arsenal’s back to back losses to United and Chelsea mean that they are out of the title race. Chelsea’s loss to Everton handed United a chance although they couldn’t fully capitalize as they drew their match against Villa, however putting up an excellent performance despite having a player sent off, the results further closed down the gap on the top of the table.
Tipped as favorites by many in their clash against Milan, United head into the tie high on confidence while Milan have had some poor domestic results off late. One point behind leaders Chelsea but with a home game against them, the players must feel good about their chances heading into the time of the season that really matters, especially since United seem to he hitting top form now.