Before last season, winning a quintuple was a ne’er-mentioned myth. Members of the media were stepping over one another to predict Manchester United would win all five competitions they had entered – the Premier League, the Club World Championship, the Carling and FA Cups and the Champions League. In early March, as the Red Devils held the Carling Cup aloft, few would have bet against a United whitewash and the most successful single season in English club history. But, even with superlatives being thrown from every angle, with just under three months of the season left, United was not yet guaranteed a place in the 2009/10 Community Shield. To be there, they would have to either win the Premier League or FA Cup – two of the remaining three trophies.
On April 19, United was knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties by Everton, leaving the league as their only chance to be involved in the season opener on August 9. A seven-point lead at the top in February (at the time of winning the Carling Cup) had now slipped to just one over Liverpool, and a seemingly unstoppable Man Utd were now rattled – after consecutive league defeats to their closest rivals the Reds, and Fulham respectively. This was two more slip-ups than pundits had predicted and, suddenly, the team who had held top spot since the mid-way point of the season felt breath on their neck once again.
Manchester United started the 2008/09 season in their usual, stuttering way and were six points off the pace as September ended, with Liverpool and Chelsea sharing the helm with unbeaten starts. The Red Devils are not known for their strong starts and their challengers always know that as many early points as possible are vital if they are not to be overtaken when United inevitable kick-on. Despite winning all but one game in October, Ferguson’s side were now eight points behind Rafael Benitez’s rampant Liverpool, who themselves won four out of four. The next month, November, saw United lace up their scoring boots – hitting 11 goals – and begin to close the gap on the Reds. November also crucially saw the start of Manchester United’s Premier League clean sheets record, which ran from November 15, 2008 to February 18, 2009 – a total of 14 games without conceding.
A record like that meant Ferguson’s front-men needed only score once in each game to take all the points and, incredibly, in those 14 matches, the final score of 1-0 to United was posted eight times. After the defeat to Fulham, United – as they so often do – used the pressure to their advantage and managed to grind out some results to keep their heads above water. The Red Devils made their game-in-hand count, beating Wigan to go four points clear and, barring a very unlikely collapse, take their 11th Premier League title.
A collapse did not happen and the north-west side booked its place at Wembley on August 9 in the penultimate game of the season, lifting the trophy in front of their home fans at Old Trafford.