Manchester United season review – Champions deposed after a year of fine margins

Manchester United – 2nd

FA Cup – 4th Round

League Cup – 5th Round

Champions League – Group Stage (3rd)

Europa League – Round of 16

Going into injury time on the final day of the season, Manchester United were on the verge of securing an unlikely 20th league title. The dramatic late events at the Etihad instead dealt heartbreak to the defending champions. With United comfortably seeing out a win at Sunderland, Manchester City were trailing 2-1 at home to QPR when a United-like comeback meant the Reds lost the Premier League title on goal difference, and went trophy-less for the first time in seven years.

Following a strong pre-season tour in the United States, the new campaign started in an positive fashion for the Old Trafford outfit. Manchester City were subjected to a stirring second-half comeback in the Community Shield at Wembley, with early signs of United’s fluid attacking promise and sharp interplay up front.

This kick-started a 100% record in the opening five league games of the season, including a 5-0 victory at Bolton, and the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal. However, a couple of draws and lacklustre performances in Europe dented United’s confidence, before one of the darkest days the Old Trafford faithful has ever witnessed.

Manchester City, following a strong start to the season themselves, came to the home of the champions and ran away with a 6-1 victory. In response to this hammer blow, United responded in true Alex Ferguson style, taking 25 points out of the next available 27 to put themselves back into contention over the Christmas period. Players such as Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick were coming into form after experiencing slow starts to the season due to injury, whilst Wayne Rooney was proving influential and revitalised in spearheading the Red Devils’ attack.

There were question marks however over United’s new goalkeeper, David de Gea, who had attracted criticism following a couple of mistakes. This was compounded in the home game against Blackburn on New Year’s Eve when the Spaniard cost United dearly. He reacted well to his setbacks though, and following an injury to Anders Lindegaard, reclaimed the No 1 spot and finished the season well.

United, who had reached three of the previous four Champions League finals before this season, struggled in Europe against lesser opposition. They crashed out of the premier competition at the group stages, then were soundly beaten by Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, having narrowly overcome Ajax in the previous round.

The Reds were also underwhelming in the domestic knockout competitions, where Liverpool and Crystal Palace dumped them out of the FA Cup and League Cup respectively. Putting City out of the former ended nervously despite racing into a 3-0 half-time lead.

The other big story to come out of that weekend against the Blue half of Manchester was the re-emergence of Paul Scholes from retirement. The veteran brought a huge degree of stability to United’s midfield following debilitating injuries, and immediately imposed his silky passing game on his opponents.

The league became the main priority, and United overhauled City to claim an eight point advantage at the top with just six games to play. There were inspiring victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, plus late shows against Blackburn and Norwich.

However, a slip-up at Wigan was compounded by throwing away a 4-2 lead in the closing stages to allow Everton an unlikely comeback at Old Trafford. This result meant City went back to the top on goal difference with a 1-0 derby victory at the Etihad, before clinching the title with their dramatic comeback on the final day.

Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson: Unlucky not to win his 13th Premier League title, denied by goal difference in injury time of the final day. He provoked an amazing response from his players following 6-1 defeat at home to City, but criticised for defensive tactics and not playing in-form Antonio Valencia in the return fixture.

Player of the Season – Michael Carrick: Despite excellent campaigns from Wayne Rooney (Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year runner-up) and Antonio Valencia (United Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Year), it was Carrick that proved the most stable influence. Injury affected his start, but the midfielder’s maturity, calmness and passing ability stabilised a United midfield reeling from the retirement of Paul Scholes and the absence of Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Park Ji-Sung.

Turning point – Throwing away a 4-2 lead against Everton: In the final 10 minutes of a game in which United were playing some electrifying football and held a two-goal advantage, Patrice Evra surged forward and struck the Everton post. A couple of minutes later the scores were level and United’s eight point lead at the top of the table duly disappeared with defeat at the Etihad in the next game.

Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.

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