Manchester United take on Barcelona in the Champions League final on May 28 at Wembley, with the Red Devils looking to win the double after clinching the Premier League title against Blackburn. With the Spanish side on scintillating form, we must not forget the collective strength, experience and will to win of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team or write them off; here are some recent reminders of their abilities.
Manchester United 2 Chelsea 1 – May 8th 2011, Premier League
With United in supposedly inconsistent form with a 0-0 draw against Newcastle, a narrow 1-0 win over Everton and off the back of a 1-0 defeat at the Emirates by Arsenal, Chelsea visited Old Trafford earlier this month three points behind the mighty Reds and looking to win the match and the title. Carlo Ancelotti’s side had beaten United 2-1 in the league at Stamford Bridge in March, the Blues had won their previous five league games at a canter and pundits were claiming that United were rattled and there for the taking.
Not this Manchester United team. Goals from Javer Hernandez in the first minute and a header from the towering Nemanja Vidic secured victory for the Old Trafford club and effectively handed the club their 19th top flight title.
West Ham 2 Manchester United 4, 2nd April 2011, Premier League
With West Ham struggling, a revival was on the cards as the Hammers beat Liverpool and Stoke City in consecutive weeks and took a 2-0 lead against Manchester United at Upton Park in April. Half time and United were up against the ropes, whilst the London club were looking like easing their relegation woes. Sir Alex gave one of his renowned half time team talks and the side came out with renewed vigour in the second half, and a Wayne Rooney hat-trick and a Chicharito late goal secured a 4-2 comeback.
United used the game as a springboard for the rest of the season, going on to beat Chelsea in the Champions League in their next game, whilst Avram Grant’s side lost their impetus and their Premier League status soon after.
Manchester United vs Chelsea, Champions League 2011
Whilst United were enjoying more domestic joy than stumbling Chelsea in March, the Champions League is a whole different ball game, and Roman Abramovich’s lust to win Europe’s top club competition has been widely acknowledged in footballing circles. With the two sides meeting in the quarter finals of this year’s tournament, United were not fancied as Chelsea had started to turn the corner in the league and were looking more focused, whilst Man Utd had not looked convincing in the previous round against Marseille and suffered domestic defeats against lowly Liverpool and the Stamford Bridge club in the weeks before. Despite this a Wayne Rooney strike in London and a dominant performance at home ensured the Reds won both legs and progressed easily 3-1 on aggregate.
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3, May 5th 2009, Champions League semi final
United took a slender 1-0 advantage to the Emirates in the semi finals of the 2008/09 Champions League, and with a youthful Arsenal side full of promise the tie stood firmly in the balance. Despite this a sublime attacking performance saw United race to a 2-0 lead on the night after 11 minutes, and win 3-1 after 90 minutes of excellent play. United looked a class above the Gunners, Arsenal chased shadows whilst Sir Alex’s men counter attacked with pace and utter ruthlessness.
Ji Sung Park, a regular in the big games, opened the scoring after eight minutes with a clinical strike, before Cristiano Ronaldo rifled an unstoppable long range effort past the hapless Almunia. The Portuguese scored again in the second half to complete the victory, but 3-1 could have been 5-1, 6-1 or 7-1 as United showed their class and dominance.
Manchester United 1 Barcelona 0, 30th April 2008, Champions League semi final
After a 0-0 stalemate at the Camp Nou and a defeat at Stamford Bridge on the Saturday before the second leg, the Champions League semi final of 2007/08 went back to Old Trafford with the Manchester club needing to find a way to outplay the Blaugrana’s purist, free flowing football. Although the performance was not the most exciting or top notch, the tie was enthralling due to the sheer passion and desire to win shown by the English side. Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown (who played in Nemanja Vidic’s absence) commanded the defence, whilst Patrice Evra neutralised Lionel Messi and kept the Spanish side goalless over 180 minutes.
The winning goal? Enter United legend Paul Scholes. The ex-England midfielder is a big game player, and whilst the teams qualities cancelled each other out, a touch of class and a strike from 25 yards won the tie. Barca’s total football, much applauded and raved over, was thwarted and cancelled out whilst United’s class prevailed.
Looking back over these games brings back nostalgia of just how good a side United are, and how their mental toughness wears teams down and goes far to winning the side games. The old moniker of ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ applies to this record breaking side, and at times during this season and many before the side have been off the boil or against the wall and bounced back to get the results they needed to be successful. Barcelona may be the form side in Europe currently, but United are the most consistent and revered side of the last decade.
Sir Alex has been there and done it, and come May 28th, his brilliance along with the side’s unity and doggedness will mean the Spanish side will be in for a difficult night.