For the best part of two decades Manchester United have forged a fearsome reputation on their ability to stay calm under pressure and get those crucial results in the Barclay’s Premier League when they really matter most.
This cool, calm and collected demeanour has become the trademark of the dynasty that Sir Alex Ferguson has set up at the club, and as a direct result, it has led them to countless pieces of silverware—both in the league and outside of it—under the Scotsman’s leadership.
However, the footballing world was rocked last season when, with just six games left to play of the regular EPL season, Manchester United did something they have never done before: They threw away a healthy lead at the top of the table.
Despite sitting eight points clear of fierce rivals Manchester City, the Red Devils somehow failed to close out what had been a ragtag campaign and clinch their 20th English league crown.
Admittedly, if the season had ended just two-and-a-half minutes sooner we would all be singing a completely different tune right now. It was only late dramatics from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero(“oooo”) that saw the Citizens eventually snatch the title away from the red half of the city in the dying seconds at the Etihad against QPR.
In what was heralded as one of the greatest moments in the history of football (although maybe not so much if you’re a United fan), Manchester City claimed their first league title in over 40 years.
The victory not only broke the stronghold that United, Chelsea and Arsenal had had over the league for the past 15 years, but also for the first time in a very, very, long while posed questions about the mentality of United themselves.
How could Sir Alex and co. allow a lead like this to slip from their grasp when everyone in the country, including Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, seemed so certain of their success?
In truth, there is no real answer to that other than the simple fact that the tablecloth army “bottled it.”
Certainly Manchester City were for the most part considered the superior side in the league last season, but even with this being the case, the pressure was effectively off the then Champions of England as they catastrophically threw it away (ironically in a manner befitting City before their injection of funds from Sheikh Mansour).
The real question now is, are these demons of yesteryear well and truly put to bed?
From what has been evident on the pitch from United this season, one would have to assume that they are. The addition of Robin van Persie to the first XI has completely revitalised the Manchester United attack, with the team now averaging just under three goals a game in the league this year.
With 21 wins from 26 matches (consisting of a 100 percent record against Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City so far this year) you would be hard-pressed to see United throwing it away once again.
However, as we learned last season, it’s foolish to simply assume that the Red Devils are going to be able to see this out without any sort of slip-ups. A team cannot enjoy a purple patch for the entirety of one campaign.
Sir Alex’s boys are undefeated in the league since November (when they lost 1-0 at Carrow Road to Norwich City). Despite this incredible run there have been several occasions when victory looked far from assured.
With home ties against City and Chelsea, as well as a tricky trip to face Arsenal at the Emirates still remaining this year, things are far from secure at the top.
However, currently United sit 12 points clear with just 12 games left to play. This is a gap that very few sides have had to play with other the years, and that bodes well for the would-be Champions.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the Red Devils win at least eight of their remaining games they are effectively guaranteed—unless City win every game from now until the end of the year by a three-goal margin!—to snatch back their Premier League crown.
United’s remaining Premier League fixtures this season are as follows:
It’s unlikely that United will go through all of these matches without losing a single game. There are some devilish away trips, not even taking into account the home fixtures against the current second- and third-placed sides in the table.
However, home ties against Reading, Aston Villa, Swansea and Norwich are all games that any fan of the beautiful game would have United down to win—especially when the results are as crucial as they are at this stage.
Even the away games at QPR and West Brom seem extremely winnable right now—taking the form of both sides into account in each case.
If those games do pan out as expected, then United will have won six of the eight games required to definitely hold City at bay.
And remember, all this is assuming that Manchester City end the season with 12 wins out of 12— something that would be incredibly unlikely for any team to pull of no matter what division they were playing in (especially with an away tie at Old Trafford thrown into the mix).
All of this cannot aid me to see anything other than United maintaining a solid margin between themselves and Man City this year, and in the process clinching their 20th league title.
It’s far too early to start popping the champagne just yet, but after what happened last season it would amaze anyone to see Fergie allow a lead like this to slip again—particularly with the (relatively) easy run in that his side faces.
Take away the games against Chelsea, Arsenal and the Champions, and United couldn’t really have asked for a much kinder end to the year.
City, on the other hand, still face a home tie against Chelsea, as well fierce battles away at United, Spurs and Everton before their year is done.
The title isn't won yet, but Fergie has one hand on that trophy…OK, half a hand!