So there we have it, not since the 1-0 victory over Manchester City back in May 2007 have United not finished Champions of England. Since then United have gone onto lift the Premier League title three times and were on course for a record fourth victory. Sadly, Chelsea thumped Wigan 8-0 on the final day of the season, leaving the record eighteen times winners a point off the top. Credit to Chelsea who have scored a mountain of goals in a crazy season. Here we take a look back at the season just gone and thoughts on performances, matches and what the future holds.
Based on Manchester United’s recent high standards in Europe and at home, you would consider this a major disappointment. However, I am a realist and understand that no matter how good a side is, there will come a time when another side takes centre stage. It might surprise fans that we actually scored more goals this season that in 2007/08 and in 2008/09 – even though we lost more games. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo was obviously a major blow. The Portuguese winger, in my book, is still the best player in the world and is showing his worth in Madrid – even though he could well end up with nothing in his debut season. Ferguson decided to bring in Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen – with the latter two not getting too much playing time over the course of the season. Wayne Rooney’s liberation in the bigger games has done our number ten the world of confidence and has become one of the best forwards this club has ever seen.
So where did it all go wrong? Did defensive injuries take it toll? Did Chelsea get the rub of the green in both fixtures this season? Or did we simply just lose to a better side? Let see what we can conclude.
Games where we should have picked up more points
Burnley: Lost 1-0 – A Michael Carrick penalty miss and a generally flat performance against relegated Burnley was a big blow, even though it came very early in the season. At the time we didn’t realise the significance of the loss. Chelsea were to win 2-1 later in the season.
Liverpool: Lost 2-0 – A massively disappointing defeat, where United were second best to a poor Liverpool side going through an Autumn turmoil, which would ultimately get even worse for the them. United lined up 4-4-2 against a 4-2-3-1, where Liverpool pressed United high up the pitch, which restricted service to Berbatov and Rooney. Torres and N’Gog were the scorers. Chelsea were to win 2-0 later in the season.
Chelsea: Lost 1-0 – A controversial goal scored by John Terry, which was scored from a debatable free kick and sandwiched in between a foul from Drogba on Wes Brown. United had more shots, more corners and were generally the better team (which was far from the truth at Old Trafford before anyone accuses me of wear Red tinted spectacles) in my opinion.
Aston Villa: Lost 1-0 – Yolkie and I had a Stretty Debate (something we aim to do on a much regular basis next season) on the performance in this match as I didn’t believe that given our injury problems in defense (Carrick and Fletcher playing at the back) we actually played that bad. We had more of the ball, more shots, more corners and Wayne Rooney was an inch away from scoring an equalizer in the first half. Chelsea beat Aston Villa 7-1 at Stamford Bridge later in the season.
Fulham: Lost 3-0 – One of the most disappointing and most argued defeats on this website. I received a mix bag of comments in one of my blogs on the defeat, but I think we can now all agree that if we had of had a full strength backline we would have stood a better chance of beating a very good Fulham side. Ferguson wouldn’t have opted to play a 3-5-2 (a formation that has massive limitations at the top level). Chelsea beat Fulham 2-0 earlier in the season.
Everton: Lost 3-1 – Another defeat after an away Champions League tie. Everton had already beaten Chelsea a few weeks previously, however United couldn’t add to their 1-0 lead, after Berbatov scored in the opening goal. It was generally a flat performance with Wayne Rooney having one of his poorer afternoons.
Chelsea: Lost 2-1 – The final defeat of the season was quite possibly the most painful. Outplayed at home by Chelsea and the manner in which Didier Drogba scored their second goal was extremely frustrating. Many fans would obviously point to Federico Macheda’s ‘handball’ for United’s consolation goal, however I would argue that decision was debatable whereas Drogba was offside – there is no question the decision was incorrect. There is no doubt Chelsea were the better side, however we were at Stamford Bridge and ended up with nothing. If the game had of ended in a draw, United would have won their 19th title.
So as you can see there is nothing between a 19th title and finishing runners up. I’m sure Chelsea fans will want to think that they ran away with the title and that United overachieved – something I do not agree with. Chelsea are worthy winners – however United are nowhere near the spend force that some people believe. We witnessed some superb performances away to Tottenham and Arsenal, whilst doing the double over City. We dropped points at home to Sunderland and away at Blackburn – two draws many fans believe should have been wins, however Sunderland played really well at Old Trafford and Blackburn is a difficult place to get a result (ask Chelsea and Arsenal).
Edwin Van Der Sar: 8/10 – Arguably the best signing of the past decade by Ferguson, Van Der Sar showed again this season why he should be considered one of the top goalkeepers in Europe. Van Der Sar played in 21 Premier League games this but was absent for the first two months of the season – something I believe is vitally important.
Gary Neville: 7/10 – Many argued that Neville was finished, especially after his poor performance in the 3rd round exit to Leeds United in January. However, over the past few weeks Neville has shown that he is still an important member of the squad that can be called upon when needed. Neville played in 16 Premier League games this season.
Rafael Da Silva: 7/10 – Despite the disappointment of getting sent off in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, Rafael has shown signs in the nine Premier League games he has played in that he has a long term future at the club. Quick and tough in the tackle – Rafael has characteristics that seem to only be present in Brazilian fullbacks. Hopefully will push on next year and become a dangerous outlet down the right hand side.
Wes Brown: 7/10 – I am a massive fan of Wesley Brown, however he was our top appearances in 2007/08 but only notched up 29 appearances this season. Was the only fit centre half over the infamous Christmas injury period (and even he didn’t play against Fulham in that 3-0 defeat) but missed the final three months of the season. We all know the quality Brown has, but as it has been for the most of his United career, injuries have taken their toll.
Rio Ferdinand: 6/10 – When he plays to the best of his ability, it is hard to find a better center half in Europe, however since the 1-0 victory over Stoke City in 2008, Ferdinand hasn’t quite been himself due to a back injury that he states made it ‘difficult to walk’. He was out injured from the end of October until the 23rd January – where he was then banned for four matches due to an off the ball incident with Hull City striker Folan. Towards the end of the season he looked more like himself, however his back injury was a massive concern for the season just gone and i’m afraid for next term too.
Nemanja Vidic: 8/10 – The Serbian played nearly double the amount of games Rio Ferdinand did, despite also being injured over the Winter period. There were also many rumours regarding his potential exit from Old Trafford come the summer. These rumours were enhanced when United bought Chris Smalling from Fulham at the end of January for a summer move. Vidic (and his agent) has since denied the exit talk and has been extremely impressive since returning to first team action in the 3-0 victory over West Ham. I hope he stays as he was a bargain buy in the January 06 transfer window.
Patrice Evra: 9/10 – Along with Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney – Patrice Evra has been the best player of the season, playing in all but one Premier League match this season. Evra epitomises the modern day full back – quick, tactically astute and can provide natural width when United are congested in the middle of the park. He is often seen making overlapping runs and untracked runs, which result in a United attack. Interesting to note that he has six assists (all competitions) to his name this season – which is the same as Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.
Johnny Evans: 7/10 – Played in quite a large chunk of games over the Christmas period and is showing signs that he can and will become a superb centre half. Asked to step in with injuries to Ferdinand and Vidic, but always performed well. His positioning was questionable in the San Siro in the Champions League, which indicates that he still has some learning to do at the top level, however he is still very young and will welcome the challenge from Smalling next season.
John O’Shea: 6/10 – Played in sixteen Premier League games this season, however suffered a blot clot injury following Ireland’s controversial defeat to France in the World Cup playoffs. Played his last game of 2009 in the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea and made a comeback in earlier April in the 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich, which saw United eliminated on away goals. He should expect to be first choice right back next term, if he has a successful pre-season. Neville has put in some great performances, however will not last forever, whilst Rafael Da Silva’s exceptional first half performance and second half sending off against Bayern Munich, shows the quality and potential he has but still can’t be considered the first choice right back.
Antonio Valencia: 8/10 – Very impressive debut season from the Ecuadorian winger, who notched up thirteen assists and six goals (in all competitions). Valencia is a superb athlete who as stretched full backs up and down the country all season. His delivery has been impressive as well, setting up Wayne Rooney on a number of occasions from wide right. He may not have scored as many goals as his predecessor did, however I think many Reds are happy with his contribution and is still only 24, so can step up another level next season.
Paul Scholes: 7/10 – Scholes is quite simply one of the best players to ever put on a Manchester United shirt. His passing range, vision and ability to get about the pitch has been a major contribution towards United’s domination over the past twenty years. He may be getting on a bit and can’t play in as many games as he used to – however, there was a point in the season when a midfield trio of Carrick, Fletcher and Scholes was the default midfield. His goal in the dying seconds against Manchester City will live long into the memory considering the dominating display from our number 18 over the course of the game. His experience is vital and I think he can go on to play a major role next season, both on and off the pitch.
Anderson: 5/10 – Massive fan of the Brazilian midfielder, however there is no doubt next year is his make or break season. Having scored his first goal (from open play and no penalty shoot out!) against Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the year, we all hoped that he would press on. A reported fall out with Alex Ferguson and a serious injury meant that all that potential and promise early in the season would have to wait until next year. Anderson is a great talent, can track runners, create from deep and is impressive in closing down midfielders in top level European match. He can and will do better next term.
Darren Fletcher: 8/10 – Fletcher has become, other than Wayne Rooney, the first name on the team sheet and has continued to improve and rise through the ranks at Old Trafford. Fletcher played in thirty Premier League games this season and notched up four league goals, one a cracker against Everton at Old Trafford. Goalscoring isn’t his key strength, however you wouldn’t have said that his creativity was either – so i’m sure you would be suprised to hear that he recorded ten assists in all competitions this season? Four more than Wayne Rooney and only four off top assist marksman – Ryan Giggs. Fletcher continues to show the world and his doubters that he is a top class midfielder that near enough always delivers in the big games.
Michael Carrick: 6/10 – Carrick played in the same amount of Premier League games as Fletcher but you half the amount of goals and assists our number sixteen notched up. I hate giving Michael Carrick such an average mark – as I am a big fan of his – , however that is how would have to describe his season – average. I have always liked Carrick as a player and his arrival in 2006 and our subsequent three Premier League titles and European Cup weren’t a coincidence. Pre-Carrick, United were a predictable attacking force – which also included the not so dynamic Ruud Van Nistelrooy in attack – post Carrick United turned into (again) a free flowing, versatile setup with Saha, Rooney, Giggs and Ronaldo benefiting from the passing range and vision of Carrick. I hope Carrick gets another shot this season, however he needs to recapture some of that early form that was so impressive.
Darron Gibson: 6/10 – Has an absolute rocket of a shot and scored some great goals this term, most notably against West Ham at Upton Park. Having said that I don’t believe he has the ability to make it at the top level with United. His passing isn’t upto the standard required and he needs to be able to assert himself on a match. Both he and Anderson were extremely poor in the 1-0 defeat to Besiktas at Old Trafford – which was an opportunity for both players to show they can dominate a midfield at the highest level. Will be nothing more than a squad player next term.
Ryan Giggs: 7/10 – Like Scholes, there is nothing more you can really say about such a legend – his experience and ability is invaluable to United, even if he does turn 37 later this year. His performance in the 4-3 victory over City was exhilarating. He twisted Micah Richards in and out all afternoon, whilst notched up a few assist (most noticeably the winner for Michael Owen). Bryan Robson once said that “Ryan can into his forties” – and based upon his return of five goals in 25 Premier League games and fourteen assist (in all competitions), he still has a massive part to play in United’s season next term.
Nani: 8/10 – I’m still speechless at the turn around of our Portuguese winger; I thought he was a goner. Linked with Angel Di Maria in January a massive 92% of you voted that you would prefer Benfica’s Argentinian starlet over Luis Nani. Shame on you! And on me, considering I have criticised him a few times over the years on this blog. There was no doubting his ability, there was no doubting his shooting and there was no doubting his skill and flair that would get supporters off their seats – however my biggest problem was with his decision making and reluctance to pass the ball at the right time. A United break would often lead to Nani slowing play down and checking back onto his right foot. But since January, he has been arguably our best performer. An impressive display against Arsenal kick started his United career, whilst a MOTM performance against Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur at home showed the world his class. I am really pleased with his turnaround and am looking forward to watching him this summer and next term as I have no doubt he will improve ever further.
Ji-Sung Park: 7/10 – The diving header at the Stretford End against Liverpool and his impressive European displays are a few of the reasons as to why the Korean has been a big success at Old Trafford since he signed from PSV five years ago. His obvious key attribute is his high energy level, which allows him to close down opposition high up the pitch, whilst also tracking attack minded fullbacks. It was a shame that he was disappointing away against Bayern and at home against Chelsea (considering he only made two substitute appearances afterwards), as he key to the way United lineup against the ‘bigger’ teams. Gets unnecessary criticism at times, but does the job Ferguson deploys him for very well.
Dimitar Berbatov: 7/10 – Some may think that mark is too much for the Bulgarian, however he has notched up twelve Premier League goals this season and six assists (in all competitions) to his name. I’ve spoken before that I don’t think his transfer has been a success, even though he has an abundance of quality. His touch, skill and vision is top class – however he just hasn’t settled at United. This was a key season for the Bulgarian, which will no doubt go down as disappointing. He didn’t scored against any of the top four sides, whilst failed to find the back of the net in Europe in six appearances. United have been linked with Karim Benzema – who will no doubt only be bought if United get a good price for Berbatov. Hopefully, he gets one more shot at Old Trafford.
Michael Owen: 7/10 – Lambasted by some due to his injuries and apparent lack of quality as an all round forward, Michael Owen showed the class he has – which was then inevitably ruined by injury. Owen notched up eight goals in all competitions this season, not bad for a player signed on a free transfer. Found his chances limited but scored a unbelievable injury time winner against Manchester City and an impressive hattrick away at Wolfsburg. A hamstring injury against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final ended his season, which was such a shame considering he had scored to get United back int the game and was generally impressive up to when he was injured. I still think he has a future at United, although it will be more of the same as this season.
Wayne Rooney: 9/10 – Wayne Rooney is, in my eyes, the best forward in the Premier League – which is quite a statement considering the quality around in Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Robin Van Persie. Out of all of those mentioned, he is the most all round forward that can do near enough anything in the top half of the pitch. He was easily United’s top goalscorer with thirty-four goals in all competitions. His ability to play on the shoulder of the defender and also to drop deep highlights his versatility to the side. Maybe one day his ability will be put up there alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi next season (if you check the Ballon D’or votes – Messi and Ronaldo are now miles ahead having been quite close in 2007). Player of the season.
Other mentioned (players who have played less than 15 games) –
Foster: 4/10 – Great shot stopped but hesitant to come off his line. Lost confidence throughout the season and could be out of Old Trafford this summer. Shame considering the quality his has.
Kuzczak: 6/10 – United’s number two secured a League Cup final spot and didn’t let the side down when called upon. Will never be first choice keeper, but is a sound number two.
Obertan: 6/10 – Has amazingly quick feet but looks like a headless chicken at times. With experience he was be more aware of his duties and improve tactically. Am looking forward to watching him next season.
Macheda: 7/10 – Big fans of Macheda on here and I expect him to play a much greater part in United’s matches next season. Big, quick and skillful – he has all the ingredients to be an superb forward.
Welbeck: 6/10 – Sir Alex’s prediction that he would be on the plane to South Africa didn’t really pan out. Still only twenty, Welbeck played in five Premier League games and his last game this season was the infamous 1-0 defeat to Leeds before being sent to Preston on loan. Has a part to play as a squad player next season, although not in the same class as Macheda.
Average Match Rating over the course of the season
As you are aware, Yolkie works tirelessly in providing an accurate match rating for the players in his match reports throughout the season. Below are the average marks:
van der Sar 6.52
Evra 7.03 (4 MOM)
Valencia 6.81 (3 MOTM)
Nani 7.00 (3 MOTM)
Giggs 7.31 (3 MOTM)
Rooney 7.45 (6 MOTM)
As a key writer and contributor to the website, Yolkie has put together his thoughts on the season just gone:
Any assessment of the season and our achievements at the end of each trophy run has to be evaulated with consideration of the extenuating circumstances. When I did our match reports after the Fulham and Aston Villa games I concentrated solely on our own shortcomings and was not as forgiving considering our debiliating injury woes at the back.
It’s no irrelevance that without the head to head games against Chelsea, our 85 points against their 80 in the other 36 games perhaps lends a little consolation to our team and club. If John Terry had been sent off for his rugby tackle on Valencia at Stamford Bridge we would have had a penalty and he wouldn’t have been on the pitch to score the winner – if Mike Dean hadn’t allowed Drogba’s goal at Old Trafford to stand then maybe United would have gotten something from the game, and it is a reference to the tight margins that we only needed one of those decisions to be correctly ruled to now be celebrating a fourth league in succession, historic for a whole multitude of reasons.
At Manchester United though there is a tendency both inside and outside of the club to look at what we ourselves could have done more and there have been nods to Valencia and Berbatov’s chances at Ewood Park and also Michael Carrick’s missed penalty back in August at Turf Moor. I’m loathe to congratulate Chelsea even though they may well have won the league without needing those results because at the end of the day I believe it was just terrible luck and just a hint of corruption that held us back rather than our own shortcomings.
That’s not to say we don’t have any and that we should be blind to the ones we do have – the most popular scapegoats have been Berbatov and Carrick. It’s unfortunate for both because it’s not that they have been particularly bad, they just have not, this season, delivered what has been expected of them. In Carrick’s case it has been a patient wait for him to consistently deliver the kind of performances he did against Roma over three years ago, and he has earned that patience because every now and then he puts in a game to justify it. But at his age, and this season gone, for whatever reason – I would put it down, simply, to self belief – that time has been and gone. His one truly top drawer game came at Arsenal when he was part of a midfield that completely dominated one that is rated by the media at least as better. But when we were eliminated from Europe his lack of concentration and conviction directly and indirectly led to the goals we conceded at Old Trafford. Whether he should be sold or not to raise funds is an open debate but whether – by merit – he deserves a spot in United’s starting XI is no longer even up for reasonable discussion.
Dimitar Berbatov’s supporters and detractors had plenty of ammunition for the similar hotbed of debate regarding the forwards future at the club, particularly in the last few weeks of the season. The injury to Rooney compounded the one that earlier ruled Owen out for the rest of the campaign and with Macheda not fit either, the Bulgarian was required to fill in the unfamiliar spearhead role at the top of a 433. It didn’t work, predictably, but it wasn’t down to lack of effort. Berbatov made all the right noises and in general play didn’t shirk his responsibility but the fact of the matter is plain for all to see, he’s nowhere near clinical enough – at a club like United you need to have the self belief to not let the chances you miss get you down but at Blackburn and Sunderland there was a man who seemed so short on it. What makes it worse is that he is clearly capable of the penetration that is required – his run against Spurs that won us a penalty recently and the direct run that resulted in Ryan Giggs’ goal against Stoke is precisely the inspiration we’ve needed from him at other times.
He doesn’t have the time left in his career, like Andy Cole did, to put that right, because this is his peak time. He has shown flashes of form and confidence but nowhere near what is expected at Manchester United, even though it is fair to say he has made a worthwhile contribution to our trophy haul over the last couple of seasons. It hasn’t been worth £30m and it hasn’t been as consistent as would have been expected regardless of the fee paid.
I was surprised to see when I compiled our match ratings that Carrick and Berbatov’s averages were nowhere near as bad as I expected, though. Again, perhaps it’s just the weight of expectation. They haven’t been awful, or bad. Just not as good as we anticipated. Let’s face it, we we were one point and goal difference – or two catastrophic errors – away from winning the league with them in the side so perhaps the real judgement is about that weight of expectation rather than whether they are better alternatives than exist in the domestic scene. This is something I’ve thought about since I made the throwaway reference in my recent blog where I compared Berbatov and Arshavin as expensive flops. On reflection, it’s probably a bit harsh to compare Berbatov to Arshavin given the different level of expectation of both clubs, and made me realise that perhaps I was not fully appreciating the fact that it’s just Berbatov’s inherent lack of ability to be a clinical finisher that is stopping him from fulfilling the potential we want from him – we’ve won trophies with Berbatov but it just looks like one of those unfortunate transfers that haven’t quite clicked. I’ve no doubt he would succeed and indeed flourish at a lower level than United as he has done, but with that expectation being so high – and the player himself quite clearly, and sometimes, admittedly, stuggling to deal with it, perhaps we as fans should be a little more sympathetic. Or as sympathetic as we can be for someone who is earning around 4 or 5 times the average yearly wage in a single week. Certainly a little harsh for me to compare a player of his undoubted calibre to someone who spectacularly failed to live up to the billing to the extent the most entertaining thing about him is his Q and A section on his official website.
To be honest it would be a little unfair to be too critical of a team that did everything within the rules of the game that was required of them to win the league. And how can we not be proud of a team that still has a few of the old guard who know what it means to be a Manchester United player and fight tooth and nail to keep winning? Whether it was Ryan Giggs’ peerless brilliance in the first derby at Old Trafford where he set up three goals or whether it was Paul Scholes’ timeless sense of timing to score in the last seconds across the city, regardless of those efforts being in vain- or, perhaps more fittingly, because of that very fact, it has still been a privilege to watch some of the best players in the history of the game. When those (no names mentioned, Steven Gerrard..) of other clubs seem content to tarnish their own reputation and that of their club, it is refreshing in this modern day to see some players who still want to play for their childhood club and do so with pride and 100% effort.
How do we improve? Plans have already started with the signings of Smalling and Hernandez but the feeling remains that we’re a creative midfielder short, a winger as alternative for Nani and Valencia and an established, quick forward to give us a greater presence up front alongside Rooney. The goalkeeper plans can be put on hold for a year as van der Sar and Kuszczak are solid stoppers, while the freak set of injuries that limited our defence won’t happen against next year.. hopefully. Jonny Evans’ form was understated yet United ended with the best defensive record; his unassuming rise to prominence never more so publicly underlined than his commanding display at the Emirates. With Carrick not up to the job, doubts over Hargreaves long term fitness, and the end in sight for Scholes and Giggs (who have both been tremendous), some midfield re-inforcement is needed. Personally I would like to see Fergie invest in a foil for Anderson, someone who the Brazilian can really develop a true personal game alongside and cement his Old Trafford future. Whether the money is even there is another thing entirely.
Oh, and perhaps avoiding Mike Dean would be a good idea.
On a personal note it has been another great year for the site. I’ve managed to annoy an even greater number of football fans since setting up on Twitter but more importantly feel proud to know many knowledgable United fans through this website – whisper it quietly but I’ve even talked to the one or two sensible Arsenal fans that exist (you know, the ones who understand the basic rules of the game instead of not doing so and then accusing you of knowing nothing!)!
Writing for the website is a privilege – I don’t run it, so I don’t have any right to demand my work gets published, but it’s thanks to you, the reader, that I am able to continue to contribute.