The manner in which Manchester City pried back a title already won by their rivals, clawing themselves to a win against Q.P.R. with two of the most last gasp goals since that night in Barcelona (come to think of it, poor Bayern), inevitably creates a sense of worry and fear over what the next few seasons hold in store for the red half of Manchester.
With what appears to be an endless supply of oil money, Manchester City look poised to further strengthen their grip on the Premier League and, simultaneously, take Europe by storm. If City’s transfer target rumors are any indication- and I can’t find one reason they shouldn’t be- things are beginning to look pretty bleak for the Red Devils.
Robin Van Persie, Gareth Bale, and, perhaps most spectacularly, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, have all been linked with the Etihad outfit. Aggravating all of this is the ever-growing sense amongst United supporters, and indeed one W. Rooney, that the club no longer has the clout- be it financial or otherwise- to lure the sport’s major stars to Old Trafford.
We’ve heard this all before. We heard this at the start of the transfer window two years ago, right after Cristiano Ronaldo went onto the continent play for Galacticos MkII and Carlos Tevez betrayed all of our collective love and swapped red for blue. We heard it when United failed to sign Wesley Snejder, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale; and we especially heard it when “all” Ferguson was able to scrounge up recently were an over-the-hill Michael Owen, a winger from Wigan, and recently, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young. Let’s not forget, somewhere in the middle of all that there was Bebe.
These signings, taken in part with the money spent by the noisy neighbors, signaled a Brave New World, one where City won everything, and United did not. Yet that new world did not happen. It took City four-odd years to finally, by the hairs on Owen Hargreaves’ chinny-chin-chin, finally, win something to justify their 250 million-plus-pound squad. Here is why next season (and the seasons after), hold much promise for United.
The Return of Nemanja
When Marco Streller rolled onto Nemanja Vidic’s right knee in a Champions League match in early December 2011, a string of events was set in motion that would eventually lead to lost games, lost points, and a lost title. The resulting reshuffle saw Michael Carrick at CB and Antonio Valencia deployed at RB in consecutive losses, to Blackburn and Newcastle, respectively.
Surely other injuries caused problems, but few, if any, had as much impact on the fortunes of the team as number 15’s. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones covered for the big Serb respectably throughout the season, but, as the stands suggest “He comes from Serbia… He’ll ****** murder yer…” There is no discounting the experience and solidity he brings at the back.
This year’s title race has proven to be one for the ages. With United and City trading blows like two heavyweight boxers, fans have a mouthwatering two months left of the season to look forward to.
With five games left before the two juggernauts of English football face off at the Etihad Stadium, United will have to be ruthless, relentless and merciless if they want to win yet another Barclays Premier League title. “Squeaky bum time,” it most certainly is!
Much has been made out of United’s final eight games. Strangely, an away trip to Ewood Park has recently become a “definite three points” in the minds of many even though Blackburn won the game at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve, to add to the fact that United have not won at Ewood Park since 2008.
This complacency is what many believe cost United a spot amongst Europe’s elite in the knockout stages of the Champions League and judging by the way some people perceive the remaining fixtures, it seems that for some United fans may have failed to learn their lesson.
It has to be emphasized that there are no easy games during the run-in, something United nearly realised all the quickly after having to battle hard to gain all three points against Fulham. As the season draws to a close, almost every team improves in some way, due to their increased work rate and determination, driven by their increased realization of impending gloom or doom and, regardless of which end of the spectrum they are at, every team wants to end on a high note.
Some may say Manchester City have a tough schedule from now on, seeing as they have to go the Emirates and get something against Arsenal but I would also say that United have a tough schedule too, playing against teams who are fighting for survival.
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To add to that, it’s never easy being the favorites, even though we are obviously accustomed to it, because when the underdog puts hid back against the wall, he can surprise you and come out swinging; fighting and battling for every bit of possession, every ball and every blade of grass.
Personally, I still have nightmares about Antonio Valencia missing ‘that’ one-on-one with Paul Robinson at Ewood Park in 2010. That game ended in a goalless draw and was the reason why Chelsea climbed past us in the title race and were eventually crowned champions.
Those are the types of moments that we need to be wary of. Manchester United have always carried the moniker of being a club who are relentless in their quest for success and that needs to be maintained, especially at places such as Ewood Park and the DW Stadium.
To paraphrase Al Pacino’s infamous motivational speech in the movie, Any Given Sunday;
“in any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s going to win”.
At this time of the season, it’s time to stop talking about next year, last year, injuries, bad refs and all the other excuses. It’s about going out, and getting the job done and if there’s one team in the world who knows how to do just that, it’s Manchester United.
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Written by Jonas, who also appears on our weekly Man United Podcast regularly.