Manchester United Power Rankings: 5 Biggest Disappointments of 2012

Christopher Heathman@@CHeathmanCorrespondent IIJanuary 18, 2013

Manchester United Power Rankings: 5 Biggest Disappointments of 2012

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    It has been a promising start to 2013 for the Red Devils. Being seven points clear of rivals Manchester City in the Premier league and safely through to the knockout stages of the Champions league seems to be a perfect remedy for forgetting a disappointing 2012.

    But the events from the previous season often fuel the form of the season after, so the disappointments suffered last year are not easily forgotten.

    This time last year Manchester United were behind their cross-city rivals in the table and had already lost three and drawn three matches.

    Unfortunately for the then champions, 2012 only got worse. A lot worse.

Refuse to Strengthen Frail Midfield

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    Manchester United once possessed one of the strongest midfield teams in the country.

    However, it can be argued that, since the departure of Roy Keane in 2005, the club has still not added a dominant midfielder of his sort to its ranks.

    The frailties in the team's midfield were there to see in 2011/12, and their desperation to bolster the position was emphasised when they brought back Paul Scholes from retirement.

    Michael Carrick, Scholes and Tom Cleverly all have their attributes, but neither tackling nor strength are part of them.

    Despite the passing ability of Carrick, when it comes to a physical midfield battle, he is inevitably going to come up short.

    Without a settled back four due to an injury to Nemanja Vidic and with Darren Fletcher sidelined for a lengthy period, Manchester United were in dire need of a defensive midfielder—something that had, for example, previously served Chelsea and teams managed by José Mourinho since well.

    This continued weakness was made all the more startling by Sir Alex Ferguson's inability, or even reluctance, to fix the problem.

    The side's frailty in this area was exposed on a number of occasions in 2012, including in the first game of the current season away at Everton.

    Marouane Fellaini demonstrated all on his own why this position is the Achilles' heel of Man Utd, and it has been for a number of years.

    2012 passed without the issue being resolved, and you have to wonder if it ever will be under Sir Alex. 

Outclassed: Knocked out of Europa League by Athletic Bilbao

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    After being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage at the end of 2011 by a 2-1 loss away to FC Basel, the famous Manchester United were installed as one of the favourites—along with Manchester City—to win the Europa League.

    After limping past Ajax in the Round of 32, Man Utd next met Athletic Bilbao.

    The result? A mouth-watering matchup between one of the best teams the Premier League had to offer and a young but hungry side with nothing to lose.

    Not only were the Red Devils knocked out, they were beaten soundly at both Old Trafford and San Mames, losing 5-3 on aggregate.

    Athletic Bilbao's 2-3 victory in the Theatre of Dreams shocked most, but the Spanish side were too much to handle.

    Despite taking the lead through Wayne Rooney, the majority of the game was dominated by Bilbao's young guns, who kept the three-time European champions under pressure throughout and attacked at a pace that Man Utd could not deal with.

    After a Fernando Llorente equaliser, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain put the visitors 1-3 in front before a late Rooney penalty closed the gap.

    The 2-3 home defeat meant Man Utd had a record of one win, two draws and two defeats from five European games at Old Trafford.

    Matters only went from bad to worse as they visited the Basque country. Goals from Llorente and de Marcos put the tie beyond the reach of Alex Ferguson's side.

    Rooney typically tried his best and scored a late goal from range, but United were simply outclassed over the two legs. 

Fail to Win Any Silverware

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    Before 2011/12, you had to go back to the 2004/05 season for the last time Manchester United finished a campaign without a trophy.

    Man Utd were beaten by Premier league foes Arsenal in the FA Cup final on penalties in Cardiff. The following seasons were filled with triumphs in the Carling cup, the Premier League and the Champions League, but the end of 2012 brought nothing.

    As covered previously, the Red Devils' European campaign was a disaster. Their results in other competitions added to the club's season woes.

    Before 2012 even started, Man Utd were out of the Carling Cup.

    Yet another home defeat, this time to Championship side Crystal Palace, meant they failed to claim the first piece of major silverware of the season.

    2012 did not bring any joy, only more disappointment.

    In the FA Cup, Man Utd were beaten by fierce rivals Liverpool in the fourth round at Anfield.

    A game partly marred by chants from both sets of fans was won on the pitch two minutes from final time: At 1-1, the tie looked to be heading for a replay at Old Trafford, but a late goal from Dirk Kuyt after an all-too common defensive error gave the home side a win and bragging rights to another set of rival fans.

    Only the Premier League title was left, and despite the loss to Liverpool and their European disaster, the biggest kick in the teeth came when they were beaten to the title on the last day of the season on goal difference by none other than Manchester City. 

Unfamiliar Defensive Problems

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    Similar to having stellar midfielders in the past, not too long ago Manchester United possessed the best centre-back partnership in the Premier League in Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

    Even if one of these players was not fit, replacing him kept the defence strong.

    The claim of being the best defence in the league was well backed up by the statistics. In fact, if it had not been for this partnership and a pair of safe hands in goal, Man Utd probably would not have beaten Liverpool to the Premier League title in 2009.

    With the help of Vidic and Ferdinand, along with Edwin Van der Sar between the sticks, the Red Devils went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal during the 2008/09 season.

    The recent defensive downfall is not just due to the change in goalkeeper, either. David de Gea has had his critics, but the goals conceded in 2012 were not simply due to his mistakes.

    De Gea finished last season with a shot-to-save ratio of 79.4 percent, the best in the Premier League. But this impressive save record was not enough to prevent teams like Everton from scoring four times in one game at Old Trafford—a game that went a long way toward giving the title to Manchester City.

    2012 was one of the worst years for Manchester United defensively.

    According to Opta Stats, in the calender year of 2012, Man Utd conceded 67 goals in just 53 games. Compare this to 2011, when the eventual champions and Champions League finalists let in just 57 goals in 61 games.

    For a club used to having a reliable back four, which has contained the likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam and of course Nemanja Vidic, 2012 was one to forget for the defenders. 

Lose Grip of Premier League Title to Rivals Man City

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    Losing a match to your biggest rivals is bad. Losing the title is catastrophic.

    But the manner in which Man Utd lost the title to Man City was so much worse.

    Manchester City led the title race for a long time, and when they appeared to have thrown it away, the initiative was handed to Man Utd. After being eight points clear with only six games left, the title looked to be staying at Old Trafford.

    However, their defensive frailties were exposed in devastating fashion.

    At home to Everton and despite being 4-2 up, Man Utd threw away their two-goal lead. Their vulnerability in midfield was evident, and the defence failed to keep Everton at bay.

    Matters did not improve for the title holders.

    A visit to Wigan Athletic was supposed to be a foregone conclusion—after all Man Utd had not dropped a single point against the Latics. The game did not go as planned though, and after a 1-0 defeat to their fellow Northwestern counterparts, Man Utd were suddenly on the back foot with a game away to Man City just around the corner.

    Thanks to a Vincent Kompany header, it was the blue half of Manchester who ended up celebrating: The 1-0 scoreline flattened Man Utd in the biggest game of the season. They were second best throughout and barely threatened the opposition.

    The final blow came on the last day of the season in the most painful fashion.

    With the title theirs after beating Sunderland, Man City scored two late goals, leaving the Manchester United players devastated.

    Man Utd almost pulled it off, but the disappointment of dropping so many important points at the end of the campaign still lingers.