In any season for Manchester United, the league should and will always come as first priority. There is nothing better than being the best side in your country! Anything else is just a bonus. We've seen the Champions League being won by the fifth best team in their league but the league is ALWAYS won by the best side in the land.
After successfully defending our league crown in the 07/08 season, we found ourselves in a tricky situation--we obviously wanted to win the league again, but that would be a third title in a row--something that is a tough ask for any side.
Our worst enemy for the season was ourselves--we had won the Champions League the season before and so had to play extra two tournaments totalling to three games in-between an already hectic campaign. The thing with United fans is that they will complain after being eliminated from the Carling Cup by Southend and the like but deep down, they'll know that it's one major distraction off. Our advancement into the later stages of those competitions plus our trip to Monaco and Japan meant that at may times in the season, we had up to three games in hand.
The Community Shield is something of a traditional title at OT these days so winning it against Pompey at Wembley on penalties was a case of going through the motions.
Newcastle United were our first opponents of the season but August was one of a couple of months in the season when we had over five first team players out injured or on suspension. The likes of Nani, Ronaldo, Anderson, Hargreaves, Neville, etc. were not available. Even long term target Dimitar Berbatov was yet to arrive so little known Fraizer Campbell was among those who took to the field on our first day out. The game, to many ABUs was a sign of how United would struggle the whole campaign. There is something about starting poorly in August that is becoming part of United. Like last season, we did not do as good as our rivals did in the first month. We gathered four points from three games but crucially, we got beat by our bitter rivals Liverpool and suddenly, the press was anointing them champions elect! How gutting it was to read all that crap! Our Stamford Bridge draw aided the cause of Liverpool, and by the middle of September, we were as low as 11th in the table when the likes of Hull (yes Hull City) were being tipped to make it into the Champions League!
THEN, Ronaldo returned, and so did Anderson aiding United to three points against Bolton, Blackburn and West Brom. We had a minor slip at Everton but made up for it with a mid-week victory over West Ham which had all talking about Berbatov's assist to Ronaldo.
Then Hull came to OT and scored three! An embarrassment of sorts but in the league it's three points that matter--we scored four and that's what mattered to me and a thousand more at the Theatre of Dreams. Arsenal inflicted a second defeat of the campaign at the Emirates and suddenly, United's record against the big teams came into question. The media put it clearly as the reason as to why the team was still behind it's rivals--more so Liverpool, who did what no other team had done in four years--win at Stamford Bridge. It was still November, but if you knew how to read English, the press would make you put bet your mortgage on Liverpool to finally lift the title. It was getting a little bit nervous inside OT as the fans knew that we could not afford to fall any further behind as we still had to fly half the world to Japan for the World Club Cup. We responded to our reverse at the Emirates with a five star performance against Stoke City--another promoted side that was proving to be more than just an opponent. A certain Danny Welbeck took his league bow with a corker of a goal that will surely ran in the goal of the season competition. Given the way Aston Villa started the season, it was not all that bad when we got a point from Villa Park. Good enough we beat City the following week and that for me was three extra points from the previous season. City did the double over us last season and are one of our bogey teams. Rooney got his 100th club goal and how sweet it was. Ronaldo got sent off so breaking down a Sunderland side that only came to OT to get a point was tough. Michael Crrick shot at goal in the last minute, the ball came off the post and of all waiting strikers, Nemanjaa Vidic blasted it home to win us three precious points! We drew our last game before Japan at White Harte Lane so the only way we were getting bailed out was if our rivals did not make any groung on us while we were away--thankfully they didn't! We returned to England as World Champions, nine points behind 'champions elect' Liverpool but with three games in hand. United had their work cut out! Unfortunately, we had more matters at hand compared to the rest of the league. Our unexpected prolonged run in the domestic Cup competitions robbed us of 6 players totalling to 11 players injured by mid-January. We had to go to Stoke immediately, we returned from Japan and a late goal from Tevez, aided buy the brilliance of Berbatov won us what I think was our most difficult game of the season. Another solitary goal from Berbatov gave us the points at home to Boro--the Bulgarian was now beginning to pay back all the hefty transfer fee that United paid Spurs for him. Rafa Benitez was clearly beginning to feel the pressure of being above the Red Devils in the league and so he took the ill-advised route of Kevin Keegan and had a six minute rant about how Sir Alex influenced matters in the league. Unfortunately for him and much to United's joy, it back-fired and the Dippers went on a run of poor league results that had all ABUs cursing!
Up until this time, the media was making a lot from the fact that United had not yet beaten any of the big teams and yet to be fair all those games were away form OT, so when Chelsea came and dared United at OT, they got their thrashing of the season. A 3-0 romp that virtually ended the reign of Scolari at Chelsea. United were now going for the title--much to Liverpool's disappoint met and the media's frustration. The following week, after huffing and puffing, a last minute goal from Berbatov put United on top of the table for the first time in the season and it was January 17th! For all the strain the season had brought, United had reached the summit and were scenting blood! We won all games in January and February-- I thought that the most crucial was the three points at Upton Park. That's one ground where we have traditionally struggled so Ryan Giggs' goal was another potential title winning strike. Our run of clean sheets ended at home against Blackburn but nobody cared about that when Ronaldo fired in a rocket of a free-kick to win us the game.
After coming from behind to beat Newcatle, United needed to beat Liverpool at home to virtually seal the title. A seven point lead in mid-March was the prize at stake. Unfortunately, it was not to be, United had their worst game of the season and were duly beaten 1-4. Nemanja Vidic got sent off again against the Dippers and how the media enjoyed skinning United after that. As if that was not bad enough, United went on to play even worse in the first half against Fulham and got beaten 2-0! This time Scholes was sent off with barely a quarter of the game gone. Then it was Rooney who saw red this time late in the game and suddenly United were falling apart. Instead of the seven point lead we had all expected, we were now just a point to the good and Liverpool were fast regaining form. Losing a game in the league is bad enough but losing two on the trot was something that even those on Mersey side could hardly dream of. Was it just a blip or were United cracking under the pressure? We forced ourselves to believe the former. But when Aston Villa took a 2-1 lead at OT the following week, dark clouds covered the red half of Manchester. In just about 11 minutes, United had to somehow turn a 2-1 reverse into a victory. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 2-2 with just 10 minutes left and then stepped up a certain little Italian, Federico Macheda lived The Dream at the Theatre. The 17 year old lifted the spirits of men who are almost twice his age and United's title challenge was suddenly back on track. If Liverpool showed character in beating the resilient Fulham at the death, United showed what champions are made of with the win against Villa. That was not all though. If you are a United fan, you'd certainly know that the club does not like doing things the easy way. United let Spurs take a 2-0 lead at half-time at OT and suddenly, the Villa comeback looked like a one-off. Again we found ourselves needing at least three goals to win a match in less than 45 minutes against a side as strong as Tottenham. Our defending had not been the best since we conceded our clean-sheet record so we'd have to rely on our attack to carry us over the finish line. And boy they did not let us down. Spurs incredibly conceded five goals in the second half and United had yet again showed the rest of the world that they will not die! To quote a certain Bulgarian in the team, "Besides, we are Manchester United." Confidence was sky high following those heart-stopping victories. Liverpool's last hope was that trip to the Riverside that has traditionally given United headache. When we won, it was another argument for title sealed as those were another extra two points that we did not get last season. But again, Manchester City would love to spoil the United party and watch Liverpool pip us to the title. Much to theirs and Liverpool's frustration, we won the game inside the opening half. Finally, we had the chance to make use of our game in hand that had pinned us back all season. The JJB was where we won the league last season but you could also argue that Michael Carrick's late winner was in many ways a title clincher. United needed just a point from the game against Arsenal at OT to officially seal the title. The point we gained, the title we won at Old Trafford and for the second time in just over a decade, we win the title three times in a row! We even managed to win the last game of the season with a reserve side and hence top the league with a record 90 points! The sweetest bit was that we had denied Liverpool the title and had equalled their league record of 18 titles. Sir Alex has clearly knocked them off their perch! I certainly will not be too demanding of another league title next season but Sir Alex will, and that's the beauty of supporting Manchester United! Sustaining success is so so hard, but so so sweet!