This was always going to be an extremely tough season for Manchester United following the loss of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer and so to finish as runners up and only a point behind a rampant Chelsea in the opinion of many United have done extremely well with their current squad of players. For Manchester United however, finishing second in the Premier League and taking an early exit from the Champions League is simply not good enough. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men may have finished the season with some silverware in the form of the League Cup but the abiding memory of the season is one of what might have been.
Sir Alex has pointed directly to one week where it all fell apart for United losing to Chelsea at home in the Premier League and then going out to Bayern Munich three days later on the away goals rule in the Champions League. It is correct to view this as a season defining moment but in truth there are many others to look back on to view where it all went wrong for United. Losing 3-0 away at Fulham was a season low but one which is felt could have been avoided if United were able to field a fully fit centre-half and did not have to instead rely on the services of midfielders Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher as a makeshift defensive partnership. Others may point to the loss at Stamford Bridge when United had worked tirelessly to gain a draw only to have it snatched away by two poor refereeing decisions enabling John Terry to head in the winner after appearing to foul Wes Brown. When looking back on instances such as this it appears that United have been unlucky for parts of this season.
Being unlucky, however, is not the only reason why United have failed in three of the four major competitions – they have also been very poor at times losing at home to Leeds in the FA Cup, being defeated home and away by Chelsea, losing at Anfield against a very mediocre Liverpool side and suffering defeats at home to Aston Villa and away against Burnley. To finish the Premier League season with seven defeats certainly is not the stuff of champions suggesting at times that United simply have not been good enough. This is the sentiment echoed by many United fans as too many times when it really counted in the huge encounters this season United have been found wanting. This was particularly evident in the Champions League where United have conceded too many goals especially at Old Trafford. They may have demolished a poor AC Milan side before being drawn against Bayern but prior to this in the group stage United looked particularly shaky in home ties against both Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow.
There have been some bright sparks, however, for United this term with the performance of Wayne Rooney throughout the season the best in a United shirt since his move from Everton. Patrice Evra has delivered another stunning season as arguably the best attacking left full-back in the league and possibly the world. Darren Fletcher has consistently delivered the kind of performance to fully emphasise his growing importance to this United side. However, when looking past these players there is little else in the form of consistency. United have also put in some performances to show why they did push Chelsea to the wire with the demolition of Arsenal at the Emirates and the early season showing away to Spurs real highlights along with the two last gasp wins home and away against Manchester City.
Remembering performances such as this again brings home the overall feeling of what might have been for United but it does little to detract from an issue which has been one of constant discussion throughout the season. Many have felt that United have been overly reliant on the performances of Rooney during the campaign with this becoming hugely evident in the way United’s season fell by the wayside following Rooney’s injury problems at the end of the season. United were never convincing without Rooney in the side – this was clearly evident in the loss at home to Chelsea but also the following Premier League encounter away against a Blackburn side which were there for the taking. This reliance on Rooney is there for all to see in the final end of season statistics which show that United have relied on as many as 12 own goals throughout the season which is the same total scored by second top scorer Dimitar Berbatov.
In order to alleviate the pressure on Rooney it appears that the United squad may need some summer surgery in the shape of one or two signings – most notably another top quality forward and a creative midfielder. Drastic changes and an entire rebuilding exercise is not required by Sir Alex as this season has shown that the squad is not that far off but just lacking that extra quality when it is needed. Whether the cash will be provided for this without Ferguson having to sell any of his existing assets is an issue which may become apparent this summer considering the state of the current ownership structure’s finances.
The continual protesting of the United fans against the club ownership has been a constant fixture since Christmas with the dominant colours in the stands at Old Trafford those of the club in its original Newton Heath form – green and gold. This campaign has certainly been effective in throwing the wishes of the fans into the media spotlight but whether it will have the desired effect of ensuring the Glazer family accepts the expected summer offer from the Red Knights group will remain to be seen. Regardless of whether the Glazer’s accept the offer, however, it certainly looks like being an extremely interesting off season for fans of Manchester United both on and off the field.