If someone said to me at the beginning of the season that we would have to rely on Liverpool to help us win the title and therefore overtake them as the most successful English team – converting into massive Liverpool fans for the penultimate weekend of the season – I would have literally thrown the afro wig and shell-suit I was being handed right back in his face.
However equally, if that very same soul informed me that United would still be right in the thick of the title race – after seven defeats, struggling against the likes of Birmingham and Sunderland and winning the title on a fairly average 85 points – I’d pick the wig and tracksuit up off the ground and beat them silly with it.
We have been in this position endless amount of times before: losing form at certain periods in the season, relying on a little help from old foes and, through it all, coming out on top.
Take last season for example. We suffered a minor blip in March but thankfully restored our confidence and in turn position at the top with those inspiring wins at home to Villa and Tottenham. Soldiering on, and with a little help from Arsenal and 4-goal Arshavin late in the season, it all turned out swimmingly as a home draw against the Gooners on the penultimate day of the season was all we needed to win the title.
To say things are different this time round is somewhat an understatement, yet the similarities are equally as prevalent. The difference? Quite simply, it’s no longer in our hands. But what’s the same (and what will always be the same) is that we’re still in it… Even though we shouldn’t be!
One thing’s for certain – so certain that I’m sure even the most red-tinted of you would struggle to disagree: we have not been as good this time around. In fact, I don’t think we’ve been good enough at all. The resolute, never say die attitude is thankfully always present in this United side, as is the brilliance/over-reliance of select personnel (Rooney, Valencia and Evra); but the general quality of our displays have often been poor and unproductive, leading to a serious lack of consistency. And the main reason we are still in the race and have been able to get away with some of the shocking results we’ve had this season is that the overall standard at the top from one season to the next has massively dropped.
This is an issue that I’ve covered all season long; with the signs of such a down-turn obvious from the start as we saw the leagues top teams lose some of their most influential players and fail to sufficiently replace them (United: Ronaldo/Tevez; Arsenal: Adebayor; Liverpool: Alonso) or simply, in the case of Chelsea, struggle to add strength or assortment to their current crop. Meanwhile, the teams around us have, to a certain extent, thrived.
No one has quite managed to interfere with the three-horse-that-swiftly-became-a-two-horse race at the top, and for all City’s riches they have magnificently failed to keep their hilarious promise of winning the domestic treble. But respect is definitely due – especially to the far more frugal Tottenham and Villa – for capitalizing on Liverpool’s demise; with all three of those teams fighting out the fourth spot effectively ruling them out of next season’s Champions League by April. This is the same Liverpool team, remember, who were supposed to dominate this term after the dizzy heights experienced by last season’s over achievement.
So back to the race and the current twist of irony that it is THAT same team who we will now rely on to help us out. And not only to win the league, but to win it a record 19th time and surpass their 21 year record.
As outrageous as that possibility may seem on a psychological level, it’s worth remembering that we were in the exact same position 15 years ago, when we needed Liverpool to beat Blackburn on the final day of the 1994/95 season. The result that day went our way but unfortunately, it was United who failed to capitalize on the generosity of the Scousers, as the win we needed at Upton Park merely ended in a useless draw.
The title that year deservedly went to Blackburn, but if Liverpool snatch a point at home to Chelsea on Sunday, I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll get the 6 points we need against Sunderland and Stoke to seal it. And if we don’t, then we quite simply don’t deserve to win the league.
But in that case, if Chelsea hold their nerve and win their remaining games, does that mean they equally deserve it over us? A few weeks ago, after the 6 pointer at home to the rent boys ended 2-1 to Chelsea, and only a week later the pathetic 0-0 at Ewood Park (while Chelsea jammily beat Bolton the day after) saw our title aspirations all-but end, we have suddenly found ourselves only a point behind with a couple of games to go.
The result at Eastlands was truly inspirational and will undoubtedly go down as a focal point of the season if we win it, but the way Chelsea got so unexpectedly turned over at White Hart Lane that same weekend was even more promising. And so the fact that neither United nor Chelsea – and you might as well include the big talking Gooners and sorry-looking Scousers in the mix as well – have maintained a truly admirable and ‘title winning’ level of consistency is telling.
United, as I’ve said, should never still be in this title race, but it’s credit to our resolve and, more so, due to the equally deteriorating standard of the teams at the top – and in turn the vastly improving teams beneath us – that we are. If we lose out, I will still be unbelievably proud that our side; who lost Ronaldo, lost all of the £80million to the Glazer debt and who’s squad according to the critics is as mediocre as it has ever been – we’re a ‘one man team’ remember – has managed to push Chelsea as far as we have. But if we win it – for those exact same reasons (as well as the small matter of the historical note that goes with number 19) – it will undoubtedly be the greatest win of all.