The day before the end of the season and we’re greeted with an unfamiliar feeling. For the past three years, it has been in our hands. Last season we needed just a point from our last two games and our 0-0 against Arsenal was enough to see us lift the trophy at Old Trafford, before our Reserves beat Hull away in the last game of the season. The year earlier we needed to beat Wigan away on the final day which we did, thanks to a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo and a goal from Ryan Giggs. The season before that we beat City on the Saturday and Chelsea handed us the title the following when they failed to beat Arsenal, with us 7 points clear, which of course lead to Jose’s famous “chin up” gesture. It meant the next weekend our second string team, including the likes of Dong, Kieran Lee and Chris Eagles, received a Guard of Honour from Terry, Mikel, Essien, Wright-Phillips and Makelele, and there was still a game to go.
This time around, it is not in our hands, and like the fans of other teams have prayed for a miracle in their favour, we are left to do the same. I’m not an overly religious man but I have been trying to strike a deal or two with God this week. It worked in 1999 and again in 2008 but you do have to wonder if we’ve used up enough of God’s grace over the past couple of decades and that He will be answering someone else’s prayers tomorrow!
After we won the league in 2007 I wrote: There has to be an element of disbelief that a team that cruised to claim the title the season before, who have a “genius” manager, and who signed three of the best players in the World in the summer, played such average football, and eventually conceded the title by seven points with two games to play. How did that happen? Logically, it shouldn’t have done. It shouldn’t have even been close. So the fact Chelsea were without Terry and Cech [through injury] is the only way it can be justified. They will of course ignore that both Neville and Vidic spent longer out injured than Terry did, that United have spent periods of the season with just one striker, with Ole, Smith and Saha all injured, and that United actually had to play with Richardson and Fletcher together as their full backs because of injuries. That would ruin the image of this special manager, who for some reason has managed to con the British public, and Europe to some extent, in to thinking he is one of the best in the World.
I feel the same way this season. The fact that we’re just one point behind Chelsea is ridiculous. We’ve had the worst injuries of any Premiership team I can remember (when has any team been without 9 of their 10 defenders, as well as their goalkeeper?!), sold The Best Player In The World (TM), went further in Europe than our rivals and saw Chelsea gifted the win in the six-pointer at Stamford Bridge. How shit have Chelsea been this season to be just one point ahead of us and how badly has Ancelotti failed? What excuse do they have? The fact that we could actually win the league tomorrow, in spite of everything, is a poor reflection of what this Chelsea team are capable of and should already fill us with hope and anticipation for the season to follow.
But let’s get this one out of the way first. All we can hope for is that our lads go out tomorrow and give it their all, whilst a miracle takes place in London. It won’t fill you with joy to know that Wigan have picked up points in just 5 of their 18 games away from home this season. At home they have a good record, beating Arsenal and Chelsea, but away from home they are pretty dreadful. They lost 9-1 to Spurs, 5-0 to us, 4-0 to Arsenal and Bolton, and have conceded close to an average of 3 goals per game. It’s hardly inspiring.
Yet despite knowing how poor Wigan are on the road, there is a part of me that still believes. I suppose you have to or else what’s the point in going tomorrow? As soon as word spreads that Chelsea have gone 1-0 up, that belief will all but disappear, but until then, I’m going to have that sick/excited feeling in my stomach.
Of course, we have to get the three points before Wigan’s performance matters at all. We have beaten Stoke on every occasion since they joined the Premiership, so that bodes well. You also have to imagine our lads won’t bottle it. But they will put all their men behind the ball and we will have to be good to break them down. Antonio Valencia is out, which provides us with the silver-lining of Nani playing on the right, with the possibility of Park Ji-Sung returning to play on the left, or Ryan Giggs.
Paul Scholes will probably be preferred in the centre of midfield alongside Darren Fletcher, with Owen Hargreaves a possibility for another cameo at some point, depending on the scoreline. Out of favour Michael Carrick, who hasn’t started a game in the league since March, should be overlooked again, although that means Ferguson will probably put him in the team, given the manager rarely goes with the predictable! With Gareth Barry apparently out of the World Cup now, Fergie might want to give Carrick a shout of getting on the plane to South Africa though.
Gary Neville is out, so Rafael or John O’Shea will fill in at right-back. Rafael has made just eight league appearances this season, so maybe he’ll get the nod so that United can appeal for him to get a medal. Van der Sar, Vidic and Evra will definitely be in the team, but we’re yet to know who else will be in defence. Rio Ferdinand got three minutes at Sunderland and played for half an hour in London this week, so he might be fit enough to push Jonny Evans, who has just signed a new contract with the club, out of the team.
Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov should start up front, despite the alarmingly bad performance of the Bulgarian at Sunderland. Wow, he was bad. Whatever criticism is levelled at Berbatov, it’s not usually to do with him missing easy chances, rather him not “trying hard enough”, not running, not putting in a tackle, not getting in to the box etc. He doesn’t have enough chances to miss a lot of them. But it was role reversal for him and Rooney at Sunderland, with Rooney only having one or two shots and Berbatov having loads. It would be nice for both of them to end the season on a high, whatever comes of it, and of course, for Rooney to grab the golden boot. He is on 26 goals with Drogba, thanks to the Gerrard assist, with Darren Bent only 2 behind. Having won the PFA Player of the Year, FWA Player of the Year, Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards, it would be great for him to finish with the golden boot.
So, as we’ve said earlier, it’s not over until the fat boy kisses his badge and points to the sky, so let’s roar our team through Sunday with the promise of a better 2010-2011.
For the last time this season, COME ON UNITED!