The 2011/12 season saw Manchester United lose their league title to local rivals Manchester City on goal difference.
In one of the most dramatic endings ever to a Premier League season, United had completed a 1-0 win away at Sunderland and on the verge of celebration when news trickled in of Sergio Aguero’s 94th minute winner at the Etihad Stadium.
Sir Alex Ferguson promised to the footballing world that his side would never ever lose the title again in such circumstances.
In the season promo, Ferguson addressed the fans asking them to gear up for the new season and assured three things:
1. A possible heart attack
2. Incredible excitement till the last minutes of the game
3. We’re going to win the Championship back
And his team delivered on at least two of three.
The first battle in the war to reclaim the title came in the transfer market, where United went out and bought goals in the form of a £24m deal that saw Robin van Persie trade London for Manchester.
Ferguson and Edwin Van der Sar’s convincing and the “little boy” inside him eventually saw Van Persie reach Old Trafford.
Shinji Kagawa was signed from Borussia Dortmund - the Japanese attacking midfielder had been a mainstay of the Dortmund side for a few years.
Alexander Buttner came in from Vitesse Arnhem as the back-up left back and youngsters midfielder Nick Powell and striker Angelo Henriquez were signed from Crewe Alexandra and Universidad de Chile respectively.
For all the talk about Van Persie, it was Brazilian sensation Lucas Moura and Belgian starlet Eden Hazard that United went after early and were engrossed in for much of the transfer window. They were to lose both battles after Moura signed for PSG and Hazard went to Chelsea.
It wasn’t until late July that the Van Persie rumours actually picked up pace.
Dimitar Berbatov ended his troubled stay at Old Trafford with a move to Fulham, veteran Park Ji Sung also moved to London with QPR. French midfielder Paul Pogba though was the one that got away from United when he left on a free transfer to Juventus citing lack of playing opportunities under Ferguson.
Manchester United clinched the title when they beat Aston Villa 3-0 at home courtesy of Van Persie’s second hat-trick of the season on April 22. Van Persie continued from where he left off last season; the Dutchman was simply irrepressible early on ensuring United got off the blocks quickly.
Defensive frailties made for a somewhat tentative start but once that came together, the Red Devils went on a fantastic run where they lost just one game in six months between October and March effectively sealing the title.
Manchester United won 25 of their first 30 games, leaving room for some leisure in the final stretch. One of the features of United’s campaign that was truly remarkable this season was the number of points that they salvaged from losing positions – a league best 29 points followed by Tottenham who were second best with 23.
Though Van Persie bagged 26 goals, United were in no way a one man team - the league champions had 20 different goalscorers this season, a new record.
Pitted with Galatasaray, SC Braga and CFR Cluj, a 100% return in their first four games saw United clinch qualification early. In the round of 16, Ferguson and Manchester United went face to face with Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid.
After coming away from the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw, there was to be heartbreak for United in the home leg. Leading 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate, Nani was shown a straight red by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for an innocuous looking challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa, an incident that turned the game on its head and saw Real overturn the deficit to win 2-1 on the night and progress.
The tie also coincided with Van Persie’s drought period of the season and he missed two very good chances at the Bernabeu that could very well have killed the tie after the first leg.
FA Cup and Carling Cup
Chelsea beat Man United 1-0 in a fifth round replay thanks to a spectacular goal from Demba Ba. The Blues had earned a rematch after fighting back to draw 2-2 in the original fixture at Old Trafford.
The result concluded the most disappointing week of the season for United after they went out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid just a few days earlier.
League Cup duty was handed over to the backup players. After getting past Newcastle, it was Chelsea once again that ended their campaign in yet another cup competition. United went down 4-3 after extra time in a thoroughly entertaining game at Stamford Bridge.
Robin van Persie
The Dutchman’s arrival at Old Trafford transformed the club. His goals aside, his presence lifted the morale of the entire team getting them to raise their levels as well.
Ferguson even compared his impact to that of Eric Cantona when he arrived on the scene in 1994. 30 goals for the season, 26 of them in the league which gave him the Golden Boot and 15 assists to boot meant Man United after a really long time had a superstar in their ranks especially as Wayne Rooney’s star had been on the wane in recent seasons.
Underrated and under-appreciated when United play well, admonished when they do badly, Michael Carrick had one of his best seasons ever at Old Trafford.
He had a hand in all things good that the club did as he dictated the tempo of the games from his deep lying midfield role. Criticised in recent seasons for merely passing the ball sideways and not releasing the ball quick enough, Carrick did precisely all of those as his forward passing was a joy to watch.
The spike in Carrick’s form can be attributed to the presence of Van Persie and the huge goal threat that he carried.
David De Gea/Rio Ferdinand
Close one, but David De Gea and Rio Ferdinand both deserve a share of the honours. This was a break-out season for De Gea, panned for not being physically up to it for the Premier League, the Spaniard had a wonderful season between the sticks.
He was always a superb shot-stopper and made countless saves to help United through some turbulent patches in games. He also improved at set pieces and has cut out the errors firmly grasping the No. 1 keeper’s role - easily the best keeper of the season in the league. He had a shots-to-saves ratio of 77% and made just one error leading to goal.
Rio Ferdinand provided a measure of calmness and solidity at the back for United. With Nemanja Vidic hampered by injury, Rio along with Jonny Evans were the first choice centre-backs for much of the season. Ferdinand has lost the electric pace which he possessed when younger, but his reading of the game is second to none.
In the big match situations, he stood up to the test for United. A key reason why Ferguson likes to keep him in the line-up is because he’s a ball-playing defender. His ability to initiate attacks form defence with the cross-ball upfield to the wingers or to the forward are exemplary and were on full display this season. Evans too had a fantastic season but Rio made 28 appearances over Evans’ 23.
The wingers: Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia
The biggest disappointments were United’s three wingers. Ranging from average to absolutely abysmal, this was one of the worst showings ever in that department.
The three of them put together accounted for just two goals and 14 assists. The quantitative stats aside, they also displayed a visible lack of creativity and failed to provide any significant cutting edge. Rafael’s and Patrice Evra’s increased contributions as overlapping full-backs bear testimony to this.
New signing who shone the brightest
Robin van Persie – by a country mile.
New signing whose best is yet to come
Shinji Kagawa - The Japan international featured prominently early on before suffering an injury that kept him out for a major part of the season. Once he returned, he put in some sensational performances towards the end that showed glimpses of his exceptional talent.
Jürgen Klopp in a recent interview said he was sad at how Kagawa had been only a bit-part player this season playing out of position on the left. Kagawa likes to play in the hole behind the main striker and that’s where he is at his best, creating and scoring goals.
And the curtains fell on…
Typically passed by under the radar thanks to Sir Alex’s retirement, the Ginger Prince said farewell for a second time, this time you reckon for good. After coming out of retirement to answer the club’s SOS last season, Scholes felt comfortable in moving on this season convinced that the next batch of players are ready to take over.
A superb professional who never admired the limelight, but one of the most loved and respected players around by both fans and peers.
Sir Alex Ferguson
He finally said goodbye after managing 1500 games at the helm of Manchester United. As ‘#ThankYouSirAlex’ did the rounds on Twitter following the announcement of his retirement, Manchester United and football fans alike were grappling with the magnanimity of the situation.
A 26-year reign drew to a close in a way that only Fergie could conjure up – a 20th league title snatched back from rivals Man City and a final masterstroke in the signing of Van Persie in the summer that handed his side the advantage.
If Eric Cantona’s arrival heralded the beginning of the Ferguson’s era of dominance, Van Persie marked the final chapter.
The 2012/13 batch was definitely a whole lot better than the team that won the league in 2010-11, however this was one of Ferguson’s more functional rather than flamboyant teams.
It was a team centred around the passing ability of Michael Carrick and the brilliance up front of Van Persie. As such it was well suited to the daily rigours of the Premier League and they managed to grind out results on a consistent basis.
Ferguson, 26 years in the job knows the formula to success in the league and managed to produce that by adding some quality to a very industrious team. David Moyes will have to improve the squad with some fresh influx of world-class talent along with a clear out of players who have received more than their fair share of opportunities to build on this, especially for if greater success is to be achieved in Europe.
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