Congratulations to Manchester City and their fans for winning the premier league title yesterday. As a Manchester United fan it stings a bit to have lost the title to City, but they played slightly better over the season, especially when it mattered most.
Just a little over a month ago United were 8 points clear and nobody would have doubted them winning the title from that position. But lose it they did, dropping points to Wigan, Everton and City.
So where did it go wrong for United? There are a couple of places to point to, but dropping all six points to City cost United the title. Then there was the home loss to Blackburn (a team now relegated); the draw with Everton at home despite being up 4-2 with less than 10 minutes left; and being completely overwhelmed by Newcastle and Wigan (in both of these games United looked completely lost), teams that finished 5th and 15th respectively.
Injuries played a large and disruptive role in United’s disappointing performances throughout the season. I remember telling a friend at the beginning of the season that it had been a while since I’d seen United play at such a high tempo. Remember 8-2 against Arsenal and 3-0 against Tottenham (two top four finishing teams no less). Then injuries to Cleverly, Anderson, Vidic and Fletcher hit and the team never really rebounded. This was made no more obvious than by the team’s apathetic display in Europe this season, culminating in not progressing out of the group stage. And really, not being able to beat Basel home or away is pretty poor And then there was that 6-1 defeat to City at home.
Sure, this was a transitional year of sorts, with several veterans either retiring or being transferred at the end of last season. But only the goalkeeping position was in any doubt at the beginning of the season, and despite some shaky performances at the start of the season, de Gea looks like a world-class keeper at the age of 21 who can only get better. Asking him to fill van der Sar’s gloves was asking a lot, but that last-minute save against Chelsea in February kept United close enough to City to keep the pressure on as well as giving de Gea some much-needed confidence.
Other players worth mentioning for having good seasons are Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans (the red card against City notwithstanding).
Surely some players will leave this summer (Berbatov definitely, Park and Anderson are also likely as is Fabio on a loan deal), but there shouldn’t be too many leaving.
The positions in dire need of strengthening are left back, center back, central midfield and one more striker would be nice. Why Fabio is heading out on a loan deal is anybody’s guess because Evra was shockingly bad at times yet seemed to be guaranteed in the starting 11. Rio was pretty questionable as well. Rafael, Phil Jones & Chris Smalling (and to a lesser extent Valencia) dealt with right back reasonably well, but Rafael should be first choice here. He links well with Valencia and offers much more going forward than Jones (who to be honest, looks completely fucking lost most of the time. I know he’ll be good, but for fuck’s sake, the guy drives me insane when he comes forward with the ball only to make the worst possible decision).
As for central midfield, United’s deficiencies have been known for years and yet nothing changes. Maybe Cleverly is the answer (if he can stay healthy) in tandem with Carrick. But Giggs, Scholes and Park just don’t get the job done against energetic or quality sides. I love Giggs and Scholes, but it’s time to say goodbye. They can play well at times against lesser sides, but against quality sides they just don’t have the energy.
With Berbatov moving on there’s a definite need for another forward. I felt horrible for the guy all season. How do you go from being joint leader in goal scoring one season to not even making the bench the next? Rooney did alright this season (not enough to justify his enormous wages if you ask me), but Hernandez and Welbeck are still too young to rely on every game.
The feeling at the end of this season is pretty much the same the year Chelsea won their first title under Abramovich’s ownership. With tons of money City seem to be able to buy any player they want while vastly overpaying them. But look at Chelsea now: sure, they’re in the Champions League final, but if they don’t win next Saturday their 6th place finish (25 points, yes 25 points behind both City and United) in the league guarantees them a place in the Europa League next season. Lack of development in youth and a revolving door approach when it comes to the coaching staff have not guaranteed them anything.
For all of United’s flaws this season, losing to City on the last day of the season on goal difference isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you don’t believe me, just ask Liverpool fans how they feel right now.
The most disappointing thing was not being in a position to go far in the FA Cup or the Champions League and then pissing away an 8 point lead. I got my hopes up yesterday when QPR were leading City, but I can’t say I was crushed, because to be honest, when City won on April 30, I’d already accepted they were going to be champions, and deservedly so.