The third and final chapter of this review features one of the most thrilling league title races of all time in the Premier League era as well as some of the mot heart-breaking moments that United fans have ever experienced.
You might want to read the previous post once again to keep up. The games were coming thick and fast and Wayne Rooney was just about the reason as to why we were still with a major shout of landing the league and the Champions League and then IT happened. The one thing that we feared all along from the start of the campaign happened at our most crucial period of the season. I mean Wayne Rooney could have got injured at the start of the season and we could have recovered easily since United know a thing or two about chasing league leaders, but to get injured at a time when we had Chelsea and Bayern in quick succession was a real blow for us. That league defeat to Chelsea was for me the telling blow in the season's title race. It gave Chelsea the breathing space they would later capitalise on when they lost to Tottenham.
Wayne Rooney was back in the side for the home leg against Bayern and the difference in the team's confidence was visible. Unfortunately, Rafael got himself sent off for the third time this season and that was just about it for our European ambitions. It was heartbreaking because we were all over Bayern till the sending off and it was more or less a Champions League semifinal (no offence Lyon).
At that point, many of us were resigned to just the Carling Cup this season and those that still had the belief gave in as well when our team played out a 0-0 draw with Blackburn at Ewood Park. It meant Chelsea could again climb four points clear with a win against Bolton at home and they duly did. That was just about it for the title. With a trip to the Wastelands coming up shortly, things were starting to look bleak and blunt for us....and that is exactly how they looked going into the final ten seconds of the match at the City of Manchester Stadium. Failure to win would mean that Chelsea would win the league that same day with victory later in the day at White Harte Lane.
Now, we United fans pride ourselves in the fact that our team plays to the death. The underlying truth in all that is that deep down, we all know that our team is not entitled to last minute winners every time so given the situation with the league and with Europe at the time, I was resigned to seeing the ref end the game at 0-0. To put it into perspective, I was not as expectant as I was I the derby at OT at the start of the season. More to that, we'd already defeated City in the League Cup semis at home with another late winner from Wayne Rooney so it would be a bit too demanding of me to expect the lads cook u another against the same team...or rather City should have learnt their lesson by now and were therefore willing to defend to the end, but wouldn't you just know it!
Paul Scholes scored THE goal that sent such a shiver down the spines of Chelsea players that they went on to lose their match at White Harte Lane. However that would be as far as pushing Chelsea for the title would go. They never lost a match since then albeit neither did we. For me, that last minute goal against City, scored by one of our veterans did it. I never celebrated like I did with the Michael Owen one but deep down, I thought Manchester United proved or rather reminded the rest of English football and the media alike about their character and the importance of the veterans in our squad. Scholes was just about our man of the match for nearly every game since then. It was nice for him to get 100 premier league goals for the club this season...and that goal proved vital as well as it helped us to three vital points against Wolves at Moleniux.
To be honest, the pressure of filling Ronaldo's boots weighed down so heavily on him that the long range stunner he scored against Chelsea in the Community Shield was his highlight of the opening half of the season. By the turn of the new year, that pressure seemed to have died out as we all knew he wasn't going to make the step up afterall. Then, at the Emirates stadium, with the game tied at 0-0, Nani, from the right hand corner of the park, beat Clichy and Vermaleen with just about as good a trick as Lionel Messi would pull out of his hat. He ran on and flipped the ball beyond the reach of Almunia and then form the most impossible of angles, it went in....so impossible it was that it had to go down as an own goal. It was harsh on the player but the piece of magic that put us ahead in that match was visible on replay for all to see. Nani went on to play one of his best games in a United shirt as he later on in the half set up Wayne Rooney on the counter-attack with an assist that led to the Englishman scoring what would prove to be our goal of the season.
Another goal against Portsmouth in the the league was chopped off as an own goal but there was no denying him a magical back flip that put us 2-0 up against Bayern (his first of two goals in that match). That should be one of those that makes it into the Champions League goals of the tournament this season.
He was now an established winger for United, swapping roles with Antonio Valencia at will. He won himself the player of the month award for April with a stunning strike that arguably won us the crucial game against Spurs. He also won us the penalty that sealed it all.
His final goal of the season was vital for us as well as it won us the game against Sunderland that took the title race down to the final game of the season.
And that just about concludes our season review. A look back at the three chapters does tell you that it was not just about one player as people like to think, it was a combined concerted effort. Individual focus of players at different parts of the season does show you that different players stood out at different parts of the season to keep us challenging for the major honours right to the end of the season. That we've achieved as much as we have despite the so many problems we had throughout the season is an outstanding feat by the players. I mean, if you sell two of your best players in the summer, including the best player in the world at the time, suffer horrific injuries to a defence that won you the previous title, play almost a month with one defender in your team, and still finish a point behind the Champions, you're not a bad team are you? Ohh did forget, still manage to win a trophy in a supposedly terrible season!