Manchester United ended the 09/2010 campaign just a point behind eventual winners Chelsea so you can imagine the pain the players and fans went into the summer with. Arm chair viewers were adamant that United wouldn't win any major trophy again until they replaced Ronaldo and Tevez---who had left the season before.
However Sir Alex saw no big difference between the EPL champions and us and bar a little more discipline from one of our players, we would easily have gotten past Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Lyon in the semis to book a place in the final in Madrid.
In came Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Bebe---all who were relatively unknowns. Perhaps the Mexican arrived with a more synonymous reputation than his colleagues as we'd got a glimpse of him at the World Cup in South Africa. Smalling and Bebe (who the manager signed on instinct) were seen as players for the future.
The customary season predictions by the media would have us between 2nd and fourth place in the final league standings as many could not see past the mega bucks of Chelsea and City.
Perhaps the Community Shield should have provided many with a taste of what Sir Alex had in store for them. Manchester United ran out 3-1 winners against Chelsea and our three goal scorers in Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov would provide us with the story of our first half of the season.
You're obviously wondering why a player who hardly kicked the ball for us in the first half of the season is part of the story...well that's the point.
Valencia had a wonderful debut season for us and had managed to effectively replace Ronaldo on that right wing for effort if not for quality. His ability to whip in the ball into the box with a single-mindedness is one of the main reasons Wayne Rooney bagged 34 goals for the club last season. He was therefore widely expected to push on this season and the goal in the Community Shield encounter against Chelsea suddenly had us lit up for what was to come in the season proper.
Then, in the most unprecedented of fashions, he breaks his leg in a somewhat innocuous challenge during a European tie at home against Rangers. It seemed like we'd seen the last of him for the season and even though he were to make a return towards the end, just how bad had our season aspirations taken a hit?
Antonio Valencia's troubles is many ways re-invented Nani as a creative outlet for United. We all know he can play on either wing but the stats show that he's better off on the right side. Nani duly took full advantage of the void left by Valencia to score 10 times in the league alone and and provide 18 assists. Quite simply, he was our player of the first half of the season for the simple reason that he made us have a life without Antonio. I happy that his fellow professionals recognised him for this and awarded him the Player's Player of the Year award at the end of the season. Nani didn't show up much for the last third of the season but it's easy to forget that the highs we reached were largely down to his early season efforts.
The Mexican got the second goal in the Community Shield fixture but even then we expected him only to have a minor role in the season ahead. He however caught the fans and indeed the manager's eye for his style of playing on the last shoulder of the last defender. He has a touch of Michael Owen and Ruud van Nistelrooy in him. His crucial double away to Stoke and then the late winner in Valencia in the Champions League must have been the goals that elevated him to first team status. In fact the one stat that does justice to Chicharito's contribution to United's cause this past season is the fact that he has excelled just as much away from home where United have been generally poor all season. Those five away wins in the league were just enough to complement our terrific home form. Hernandez won us the 3 at Stoke, won us the 3 at West Brom, helped win us the 3 at Blackpool, confirmed the 3 at West Ham and stole us 3 valuable ones in the Champions League in Spain.
It's no wonder that he won the prestigious Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year. The fans were clearly moved by his contribution.
DB9 grabbed the third goal at Wembley in that Shield opener. It led Fergie to reveal that this would be his season. We took the manager's word's lightly given the 2 relatively disappointing seasons that Berba had. But by October, the Premier League had taken note. His 21 league goals must have had something to do with our ending up as eventual league Champions. He was criticised for scoring in bulk and then going on a drought but I guess when you have a striker who scores in the more appealing fashion that Chicharito does, then you need one who will score them in in numbers if it means improving your goal difference. His finest moment came with a superb hatrick against Liverpool at Old Trafford----the first in 64 years to do that. Then he joined the likes of Alan Shearer in the record books by scoring 5 against Blackburn in a 7-1 rout.
He was in the end rewarded with the Premier League golden boot. That he shared it with Carlos Tevez takes some gloss off it but he can take courage from the fact that Carlos's total included five penalties whilst his were all taken from open play.
Wayne Rooney came into his own just about the time Berbatov began to fade and scored the best goal I've ever seen at Old Trafford (edging out Ronaldo's free-kick vs Portsmouth). For all his troubles in front of goal, he got the goal of the season---further proving that class is indeed permanent.
Edwin van der Sar had a fantastic last season with us. It's only sad that his last game for us was a painful experience for us fans. Paul Scholes called it quits at the end as well whilst Gary Neville did it in mid-season. They're all club legends and will be greatly missed. The summer should be about replacing their talents.
Sir Alex will look back and probably admit that this season was the most difficult he's had. That we've been successful in it despite the difficulties further attests to the managerial genius of the fiery Scott. The Antonio Valencia leg break was obviously unwelcome but none of those hurdles shook him more than the Wayne Rooney transfer saga. That he managed to save another player from wasting his talent by seeking a move away from Manchester United was a master stroke of his genius. This team was not given a prayer by anyone at the start of the season but we played 21 league games before we tasted defeat---an incredible feat in a league as competitive as this.
The manager's belief in the strength of the team was rewarded with a League title triumph in May. The next best team was all of 9 points away from a team that struggled to win away from home and a team that many called the 'worst under Sir Alex'. The irony is that this is the team that has claimed that most wanted record of 19 League titles. The most optimistic neutral called United an average team. Given our success, I can only conclude that the rest of the English League is below average and pretty much most of Europe as well!