One fence left for Fergie's thoroughbred's to clear
The moment most people may have realised Manchester United were destined to win the Premier League came deep in stoppage time against Aston Villa five weeks ago. United, who had taken an early lead at Old Trafford, trailed 2-1 with 10 minutes to go and were heading for a third straight league loss after defeats by Liverpool and Fulham. Those two defeats, especially the 4-1 thumping Liverpool gave them at Old Trafford, raised doubts about United coping with the pressure of chasing five trophies. Although that target proved elusive for even Alex Ferguson's side, the probability of winning the Premier League for a third successive season was rekindled in the closing minutes against Villa. Cristiano Ronaldo equalised after 80 minutes before substitute Federico Macheda, a 17-year-old Italian making his debut, scored a brilliant goal to earn a 3-2 win and re-ignite their campaign. That win was the first of seven in a row that helped United power their way to their 18th title, equalling Liverpool's record. United also rallied from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 at the end of April and came from a goal down to beat Wigan Athletic 2-1 on Wednesday with a self-belief that set them apart from their rivals. Although Chelsea were top for 10 weeks between August and November and Liverpool were at the summit for seven weeks at the turn of the year, neither could derail United's title express. Underlying all their success of course is Ferguson, as driven now as when he first went to Old Trafford nearly 23 years ago. This is his 11th League title with United -- and there is no sign yet it will be his last. FAB FOUR With Ferguson able to use the so-called 'Fab Four' attacking quartet of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Ronaldo, who scored a combined 71 goals in all matches, United's threat up front eventually wore down most teams. All contributed something unique and all dovetailed perfectly. Tevez's future at the club may be in doubt but his tenacity and eye for goal, traits he shares with Rooney, proved priceless. The Argentine's back-heeled equaliser against Wigan on Wednesday was one of the most inventive of the season. Ronaldo did not score as many goals as last season but his deadball magic and his often overlooked work-rate far outweigh his theatrics after he has been fouled. Berbatov, signed at the start of the season for 30 million pounds ($45.61 million) from Tottenham, may not be every United fan's favourite but his deft link play, especially with the talismanic Rooney, and his goals have gone some way to justifying his transfer fee. After winning the Champions League last season, Ferguson said the evergreen Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs would not feature as much this time round. However, both played significant roles in midfield. Giggs made his 800th appearance for United this season and Scholes his 600th and it was their experience, alongside the talents of young defenders Rafael da Silva and Jonny Evans and the stability of midfielders Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Park Ji-sung, that made United so hard to beat. Their success could not have been built without the solid defending of John O'Shea, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, a unit reliable so often that a Vidic error in the defeat by Liverpool was eye-catching simply because it was so rare. If anyone did manage to get past them, they then had to contend with Edwin van der Sar in goal. The 38-year-old Dutchman was outstanding. He went 14 matches without conceding a goal from Nov. 15 until Feb. 18 and kept a clean sheet for an English league record of 1,311 minutes. With the Club World Championship, the League Cup and the Premier League all won, United will be seeking to retain the Champions League title when they face Barcelona in the final in Rome on May 27. Victory over Barcelona would put the seal on a great season, and top the trophy haul of a decade ago when they won their famous Treble.
16 May 2009
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