1. Who has been our best player?
2. Who has been our most improved player?
3. What was your biggest disappointment?
4. Which was our best game?
5. Which was our best goal?
1. It’s really much harder than you’d imagine because I’m opting for Carrick but I immediately feel guilty for not picking van Persie, De Gea, Ferdinand or Rafael.
A good indication of who’s really been the best player tends to come in the form of who the players at the club have voted for. As fans we tend to love goals and hence it was no surprise that van Persie picked up the fan award but sometimes you have to look that bit harder and closer to find the real gems.
Fact of the matter is that without Carrick, we were desperately fragile – our back four would get minimal protection and any kind of calmness and importantly maturity was suddenly gone from the centre of the pitch. Carrick’s attacking prowess has been noted by a wider audience this season as the sideways backwards myth has been dispelled but for me he was most crucial in his defending. Every single game you could find him popping up in the right place at the right time to make an interception or tackle before turning defence into attack.
Like every player, he had brief spells that were sub-par but for him that was rarely more than 30 minutes in a game, every couple of months. The consistency of his performances were unrivalled and it’s a delight that his value to the team has finally been recognised. That he didn’t get injured was a blessing – support and back-up for him is once again required this summer.
2. Again, this is so tricky. The obvious candidates are Rafael and De Gea – a right back who could go on to make as many appearances for the club as Gary Neville; and the league’s best goalkeeper.
However, I’m going to be different, simply for the sake of it, and pick out both Jones and Hernandez.
Phil Jones – a source of amusement for both Reds and non-Reds; a player burdened with unfair comparisons to previous giants; and a player seemingly destined to fall victim to his own versatility. Strip away the pantomime victim and there’s incredible potential, albeit slightly raw. Injuries have restricted his involvement for most of the season but his development in 2013 has been striking. He’s been deployed centrally, in specific roles for specific opponents. In those situations he’s excelled but the role in which he’s really looked the part has been when he’s played at the heart of the defence. For someone who can seem so clumsy, his reading of the game is actually very good and he’s a monster once the ball is in the air. Moyes is going to have such a tough task trying to balance the use of five excellent centre backs.
As for Hernandez, he’s shown that he’s more than just a finisher. His link-up and hold-up play has improved a hell of a lot – where once he’d have struggled to keep the ball in the final third, waiting for support, he’s now not only doing that but he’s making good decisions and setting up goals for his team-mates. There seems a willingness from him to get involved in build-up play now, almost as if he wants to show off that he’s been working hard on other areas of his game. Of course he still remains a lethal poacher but he’s clearly made a huge effort to become more than just that.
3. In terms of the players it has to be Valencia. The problem with him is that we all love him and criticising him feels so wrong but it is warranted. I’m sure there’s been a legitimate reason for his lack of confidence and seemingly unwillingness to take on fullbacks but as the one regularly available winger, there’s been a lot of pressure on him to deliver and he didn’t. Whatever his mystery injury has been, I hope it disappears this summer because there’s no doubt that this one trick pony is a bloody effective one when he’s fulling at it.
Aside from Valencia, I was gutted about the nature of our FA Cup exit. I’d accepted that Real Madrid was simply bad luck but with the league almost sewn up, I hoped the players would be really up for the FA Cup but it just never happened. It seems farcical that most of our squad haven’t won it and in a weird way, the cup seems to have taken on more of its mythical aura once again in recent years. That City’s heads seemed to have gone as soon as the title was ours, it seems a shame that we couldn’t have taken them on in the semi-final to exert revenge for 2011.
4. Our defeat at home to Spurs. Seriously.
It’s actually really difficult to pick out a best game because the season was so odd. The first half of it we conceded plenty and generally scored more than plenty; whilst the second half of the season was more about grinding out results. City away stands out but that Spurs game was special.
The first half was as bad as anything we did all season but the second half was probably our best spell of prolonged attacking, exciting football. Spurs got hit by wave after wave of attack with Scholes doing the choreography. With Giggs hauled off at half time, United ended the game with all four strikers on the pitch along with Nani. That we lost ended up being a travesty but at least we’d lost trying to raise hell.
5. Rafael’s at QPR… you wouldn’t have found our last right back doing that!
1. I was glad Michael Carrick won the players’ award but it’s Robin van Persie.
2. Undoubtedly David de Gea, whose development has been as speedy as your favourite TV character. He was impressive in parts in his first season, but there were still a few concerns. Remember when he got into trouble for something as trivial (‘trivial’ as in ‘not front-page worthy’) as stealing a Krispy Kreme? And within a year … all his troubles were gone. A consistently excellent, better-than-the-rest De Gea would never get into trouble for taking a doughnut. There were the duels in the air that he always seemed to win and the iron fist he’s appeared to have acquired. The great saves have also doubled and they even look better than normal: he’s the goalkeeping squid, stopping everything with his feet.
There’s also Rafael da Silva. That Rafael performance of previous seasons you called his “best”? Now imagine seeing that about 25 times over and never getting bored of it. United have replaced Gary Neville in the perfect way: another small, loveable scamp nurtured from a young age with a mean edge. Oh, and he *can* defend.
3. Antonio Valencia. Words are futile, in this case.
4. The 3-2 win over City in December. Opposition considered, and the thing that happened on the last day of the season before, it was pretty enjoyable. Van Persie’s late winner was deserved in a game that even Ashley Young played well in.
5. Robin van Persie’s scored a few goals ultimately more important than this one, and then another against Aston Villa that I’d consider for ‘best goal’, except, I’m pretty sure I made my mind up about this back in February. It was Danny Welbeck’s against Real Madrid. The best goals need to have some context — I suppose Van Persie’s title-deciding volley vs. Villa had a lot of that and more — but this one was special in its own, understated way. It was a goal by Welbeck, for one: this, a vindication of the dwindling Welbeck Appreciation Group. He doesn’t score enough, if you haven’t heard. (But he’s appreciated because he is, in fact, quite good, and though it seems as if any forward player can be defended with the “but he offers more elsewhere” line, it’s actually true for Welbeck, and so it means it’s not absolutely crucial he scores, while it is for someone like Javier Hernandez — whose all-round game has also improved, but ignore that for argument’s sake.)
It was also United’s ‘best goal’ simply for the sheer shock of it all. United aren’t usually underdogs, but it had felt like it until Welbeck got his head to Rooney’s corner. And then there’s this: Welbeck is a local boy and a United fan. And he managed to get a goal at the Bernabeu. If that doesn’t convince people, well.
1. I’d like to preface this one by including several honourable mentions. In terms of sheer consistency, Rafael and Carrick, who have both truly silenced any remaining detractors this year with their uniformly-outstanding performances. I can only recall one mediocre half between the pair.
Phil Jones’ versatility is promising, a powerful entity at centre-half, full back and centre-mid. Whilst I particularly relish his Robbo-esque marauding runs through the midfield, I do feel he’ll ultimately find his home at centre-half, where his determination and foresight combine to ensure he wins 90% of challenges to which he commits.
However, for utter class it’s difficult to look past Señor Van Persie. No wonder Fergie recently asserted that the moment he felt we’d secured the title was the day we signed him. He’s exceeded the lofty expectations most harboured for him, and he was evidently built for the biggest of stages. A joy to behold
2. DDG. There’s sometimes an unwarranted stigma attached to the title of “most improved player.” It can be readily misconstrued as presupposing that the player awarded the accolade was previously mediocre or even subpar. Neither of these apply to our Dave. He arrived from Spain, having been reared to handle a radically-different brand of football for a goalkeeper, and within a relatively short space of time is illustrating that he possesses both the mental fortitude and fundamental attributes to adapt to the rigours of English football. Aside from a plethora of breathtaking and significant saves, most impressive was the manner in which he stood up to the physical assault from Andy Carroll.
3. Some would probably say Ando, Nani or Valencia. But we’ve grown accustomed to being underwhelmed by Ando, and frustrated with Nani. The ongoing sense of disappointment is all too familiar. And Valencia, through his trials and tribulations, still always puts in a shift.
Hence, it has to be Rooney, both on and off the field. Distinctly lacking in form, fitness and fire all season. The former is the least disconcerting, since form is temporary, but the latter two are highly alarming and indicate that the love affair is abruptly coming to an end. And then his decidedly lacklustre season culminates in an inauspiciously-timed second transfer request. I for one think it’s time to sever ties. Tara Wayne
4. A few high-scoring, edge-of-your-seat away victories spring to mind (including Southampton/Chelsea) but most notably of course City. After Young’s 3rd was wrongly adjudged offside, and City subsequently eliminated the 2-goal deficit, it was looking like it would end up a sour day. However, up popped RVP to lend a little poetic justice to his inaugural Manchester derby.
5. For technique; That second RVP goal vs Villa at home. Perfection
For the feeling induced; RVP last-minute free-kick winner at the Etihad. Both goals made a lot of grown men shriek like little girls.
1. I’m with Klopp; our best player is Shinji Kagawa, hands down. Unfortunately, he has not been able to play in the position that best reflects his strengths, which must be incredibly frustrating for someone with his level of ability. I can only hope that Moyes has him in his sights and Shinji is able to find a niche at our club, and doesn’t leave for greener pastures, as he appears to also have the sort of personal charisma that is suited to United.
So taking that into account, whilst we love the Benjamin Button stamina of Ryan Giggs and the outstanding passing ability of Michael Carrick, it would be churlish not to look at Robin van Persie’s goal tally and see that he’s probably comfortably contributed the most to our club as a player this season.
2. If it weren’t for all the injuries I’d be tempted to say Phil Jones. Certainly, Sir Alex had some very favourable things to say about him this season. But I think we have to look at the beautiful Rafael, despite the occasional f*** up. He’s earning his place as first choice right-back.
3. Smalling and Valencia have been pretty disappointing this season. Both lacking impact, despite Tony getting loads of games, which was incredibly frustrating as a fan. I’m not disappointed by Rooney, despite clear fitness issues and the alleged request to transfer. I’m happy for what Rooney has done for us over the years, and I’ll be happy also to see him go, especially if we can get good money for him and someone fitter and a bit more in-keeping with my own definition of a United great.
The biggest disappointment has been Ando though, let’s face it. God love him, he seems like a top lad and I wouldn’t want to begrudge him a pie or two… but you know, this is not the club to f*ck around at. This season should be his last here.
4. It was nice beating City at the Etihad after last season. I liked the Newcastle, Boxing Day game at Old Trafford with the last minute Hernandez winner, which was a bit of a turning point for the season in my mind. But the game of the season has to be when we won the title against villa.
5. I did enjoy Kagawa’s third against Norwich, because he was the first Asian player to score a hatrick in the Premier League, plus (as previously outlined) I love him. But the goal that sticks in my mind is Robin van Persie’s second goal in the Villa game on april 22nd when we won the league title. It’s not very often that my favourite goal of a season comes from my favourite game, but there we are. Thanks in no small part to Wayne Rooney, and yet I’d still be happy to see him go. Football’s a fickle mistress.
1. Tough one but I’d say its got to be between Carrick and van Persie. Had the question of been most consistent then it’d be Carrick hands down because RvP went through a dry spell. But in terms of coming up with ‘quality’ in important moments then it has to be ORvP.
2. This is a particularly tough one because I wouldn’t say any player has gone up a couple of levels compared to last season. Take for example one player that’ll be mentioned by many, Rafael, he wasn’t exactly inferior or average 12 months ago. He was showing glimpses last season of his solidarity when he had Bale in his pocket at WHL and OT. Perhaps Rafael is more fitting of the first question because he’s been one of our best players this season.
I’m going to flex the criteria for this question to get the answer; which player has shut up his critics the most? The answer has to be De Gea. His biggest fans like myself will tell you that he was brilliant in a lot of games last season as well but he still had the dodgy tag due to the Hart-worshipping media’s bias. He’s gone from famously being known as a dodgy keeper to being in the team of the year (the biggest V sign).
3. The most disappointed any United fan has felt during this season is when SAF announced his retirement. Nothing else comes close to this feeling of emptiness, even the Real Madrid daylight robbery, which was probably the most disappointed we’ve all felt after a game this season. My other slight disappointment would be not seeing Kagawa flourish. I was as excited as anyone when he signed and whilst he hasn’t been poor by any stretch it’d have been great to see him showing the same quality of play as he did at Dortmund. Nevertheless, I fully understand the reasons for it not happening and have confidence in him being much better next season.
4. For the result and sheer euphoria it has to be the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. A last minute winner against your nearest rivals after they produced a good comeback to level and to increase the gap between the sides. Brilliant!
5. Looking back atour top 10 goals of the season therethere are a few crackers to choose from. Usually I always favour team goals which comes from some good passing but this season it has been more of a case of belters. Rafael at QPR being a prime candidate and probably would’ve got my vote until the more impressive van Persie volley against Villa.
1. The choice for United’s player of the season ‘should’ be a no-brainer.
Every montage of this championship-winning season will show a beaming, prematurely-greying Dutchman being mobbed by his team-mates after breaking the back of the net – and rightly so.
But when the United players were asked to vote for their player of the season, they recognised that scoring goals (although the lifeblood of the game) is not the be-all and end-all in football. They chose to pay tribute a quiet Geordie lad, who’s blossomed from an ‘Unsung’ (and at the beginning of the 2011/12 season ‘Unused’) hero into the first name on Fergie’s team-sheet, and a favourite amongst the more vocal members of our support.
It will be of no surprise to anyone who knows me that I too chose Michael Carrick as my player of the season (for the second year in a row). What is surprising is that Carrick himself has actually managed to not only carry last seasons form into this one – but actually improve on it.
His range of passing, touch and awareness have all improved. He looks stronger and more confident (on the ball and in the tackle), he also possesses greater skill and balance than most give him credit for, with quick feet that help him out of almost any situation. When you factor in his unerring ability to find a red shirt with the ball, you have a player at the top of his game (and he manages all this, despite not knowing which central midfield partner Fergie’s Tombola will throw out from one game to the next).
“It’s hard to believe” that the national side isn’t built around him.
2. One name came to mind when I was asked about United’s ‘Most improved player’ and that name was Ashley Young!
But after a serious ‘Drying out session’ in The Priory, I decided that this accolade should go to our young Brazilian right-back Rafael.
To be fair to some of the other lads in the squad, I have to say that this is probably the most competitive category:
David De Gea has come on in leaps & bounds, but seeing as I was never one of his detractors in the first place, I was always (reasonably) confident that he’d shine once he adapted to the physicality of the Premier League, all ‘Big Dave’ did was prove me right.
Jonny Evans is another who grows & matures season upon season, although he’s still quite young for a Central Defender at 25 – I think that he’s now the finished product and I would have no qualms about seeing him in the starting XI every week.
Phil Jones has shown in flashes why he’s been so highly rated by many. I’m not saying that the Jury’s still out on him (not one bit) but I would love to see him have a full season in one position (where he didn’t try and break himself by being so big, daft and fearless).
And finally Danny Welbeck, trust me when ‘The Fresh Prince of Longsight’ works out how get the signals from that beautiful brain of his down to his feet a little quicker – he’s going to be a very special player.
That’s the great thing about having such a young squad, over a season you can actually see where players have grown, and if all of our young stars continue on in this vein the future is definitely bright.
I think the reason that Rafael has ‘come out on top’ here is because he hasn’t just grown up on the pitch – an enforced separation from his brother seems to have made him realise that he’s his own man, and he’s thrived! I have no idea whether United employ Psychologists or whether this was just dumb luck, but taking the boy (who was initially regarded by many in the game as ‘The other Da Silva twin’) out of his comfort-zone, making him stand on his own two feet and prove himself as player has been the making of him.
Every element of his game has improved over the last 12 months, his fitness, endurance, patience, positional awareness, passing, crossing and (THE GOAL AT LOFTUS ROAD!!!!!) shooting have all taken huge leaps forward, to the extent that Manchester United now have a recognised Right-back for the first time since that bloke off Sky Sports with the ropey facial hair played for us.
His popularity amongst the fans is helped in no small part by his buoyant character and enthusiasm, and his newfound maturity has meant that said ‘enthusiasm’ doesn’t lead to the kind of rash tackles that had previously blighted him.
I still hold out hope that Fabio can prove to be the player that we all thought he would be, and that our defence will be book ended byDa Silvas for many years to come. But for now, I’m just glad that Rafael has risen to challenge.
3. I tend more often than not to be grateful for what we’ve achieved over a season rather than look back on what we didn’t. Although there have been a few disappointments along the way, most of the time you just have to hold your hands up and say “That’s Football”, there’s nothing you can do about it once it’s happened (even if there is an element of injustice).
The manner in which we were knocked out of The Champions League was very (VERY) hard to take, and if we’d known then what we know now – there would’ve been a 4 hour queue outside North stand for people who wanted to throw themselves off.
I just hope that the feeling of utter disbelief that hung around Old Trafford that night (and around everyone associated with United for a good few weeks), drives the players on in the same way that last seasons sickening end galvanised the squad this year.
That kind of thing can’t be taught on the pitches at Carrington, it’s psychological, it’s a pain that you don’t want to feel again and you’ll do anything to avoid.
You just know that they’ll be watching the final at Wembley thinking “What if?” – and they’ll come back hungrier and more determined than ever next season.
4. Where do you start?
The season opened with a shocker, Fergie outfoxed by some bloke called Moyes, soundly beaten by the lesser-evil Scousers (with only De Gea to thank for a ‘respectable’ 1 in the goals against column).
What followed seemed like an eternity of toying with our opponents by cruelly allowing them to think that they could beat us, before remembering that we’d actually quite like all 3 points ourselves.
That worrying trend meant that going into the derby at the Etihad in December, I was less than confident. I paced the floor for hours waiting for kick-off with a feeling of impending dread, all that changed when I saw the line-up on Twitter. Bold, attacking and full of pace – everything that we’d lacked in this fixture the previous season.
Everyone knows what happened after that, the high of those 2 early Rooney goals, the low of having a perfectly good 3rd chalked offbefore the inevitable City comeback (that gave them the kind of hope than can crush you at a seconds glance) and then the sweet left foot of that majestic Dutchman!
Chaos ensued as the City fans spat-out their collective dummies (and threw whatever they could get their hands on at out players), there was bloodshed, fan confrontation and a perfectly placed blue flare which seemed to give the whole thing an air of the surreal.
And the best thing was, this was the point where the team really started to believe that we were going to regain the title. This game was truly pivotal.
5. There are many different types of goal.
A two-yard shinner that rebounds in of someone’s arse can win you a European cup, but a 35 yard volley that crashes in off the underside of the crossbar when you’re already 4-0 up – will soon become just a statistic. This season 20 players scored a variety of goals for Manchester United, some technically ‘better’ than others and few more important than most.
My favourite goal will be maybe 50% of United fans favourite ‘Robin van Persie’s 2nd goal against Aston Villa’ (to the other 50% who went for Rafael at Loftus Road – fair play).
But that volley from RvP was power, athleticism and years of honed technique coming together in one millisecond. Coupled with the perfectly weighted ball from Rooney, that strike is one that’ll live long in the memory.
Watching it back on the concourse at half time, I was telling anyone who’d listen that”Sky will be showing that goal, and the goal that he scored for Arsenal against Everton last season, side by side tomorrow” – As it turned out Sky were even quicker than that – they were doing it as I spoke. The reason that I was so sure (and Gary Neville obviously agreed) was that it was identical. His entire body shape (from the rolled shoulders and arcing spine, down to his contorted fists and tight elbows) was a mirror-image – perfected, flawless technique, the product of hours on the training pitched and the mark a true professional.
Oh, and we won No/20 that night too.
1. Has to be Michael Carrick this season for me. Unbelievable consistency…we really could do with two of him! I think both Rio and RvP have run him close this year in terms of performance, but I think these are Carrick’s golden years. He’s at the top of his game and will be first choice on Moyes’ team sheet next year.
2. Rafael…he’s been immense this past twelve months. He’s added that defensive steel to his game now, and you can see the work in the gym he has done. One of the very best right backs in European football now.
3. It has to be the number 7. No clue what has happened to Antonio Valencia this season. He had a persistent injury, but his confidence has been zero. After such a great season last year, no one was expecting such a poor performance this past twelve months. Many feel we’ve seen his ‘true limitations’ this year, and I fear that might be the truth. I hope Zaha offers him the true competition he needs.
4. I don’t think the 3-2 at Eastlands can be topped. It was December and I think a City win would’ve put them in the title driving seat, but the manner of the victory really ripped it out of them, and gave us the energy to go unbeaten for an extended period. That Van Persie goal will go down as one of the great derby moments.
5. Without doubt, Van Persie’s volley, from Rooney’s wonderful pass. It’s rare to see such brilliance in the flesh. One of the best goals I’ve ever seen at Old Trafford. I still have to pinch myself when thinking that RvP plays for us. How stupid were Arsenal selling him to us? Can’t wait to see Kagawa playing behind him next year.
1. Robin van Persie. The aspiring football intellectual in me wants to talk about how Michael Carrick’s metronomic dissemination has catalysed the transitional phases of passivity to incision or something like that but Robin van Persie’s been dead good and scored lots of goals. Carrick has been great and I’m glad to see he’s getting the recognition he deserves but I think if you took him out of the side, we’d still have won the league, albeit by a smaller margin. With Wayne Rooney’s form being as fleeting as some of his ‘personal encounters’ and the complete lack of threat from wide areas, I think we’d have really struggled without RVP. Also, have you noticed how much he loves playing for United?
2. It’s tempting to say Rafael, he’s been absolutely brilliant this season and given how young he is, I’m not sure I’d swap him for another right back in Europe. Ultimately, though, I’d have to say De Gea. By the end of last season, it was clear he had the potential to be truly great but it’s still been surprising how quickly he’s fulfilling it. There’s been a few hairy moments this year but, despite the fact he looks like he’s just finished backpacking around South America, people seem to forget he’s still only 22 – that’s about 13 in goalkeeper years. He finished this year by being voted the best ‘keeper in the country but there’s little doubt best is yet to come.
3. It seems a bit odd talking about this given we’ve just won our twentieth league title but the fact that we had it sewn up so early means there’s been a lot of time to focus on the disappointments. The way we were knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup stand out, though for very different reasons, and the gingham – oh, the gingham. Rooney’s performances have also been a massive letdown, especially as it looked at one stage like he and van Persie were starting to put together something very special. Up to about three weeks ago, I’d have said that was the biggest disappointment this year but Fergie’s retirement puts all the rest of it into perspective. I know some reds have grievances with him, many of them genuine, and I couldn’t agree with everything but he’s given us the best 20 years any football supporters anywhere have ever had and I love him for it. It still feels surreal to be honest, it’s like your dad retiring from being your dad.
4. City away. Local derby, top two teams in the country, two-goal lead brought back to 2-2, RVP injury time winner – everything that’s great about supporting United in a crazy, dramatic, hysterical 94-minute nutshell.
5. Rafael’s goal against QPR was an absolute stunner and in any other season, I’d have probably gone for that but Robin van Persie’s second against Villa was something truly, truly special. He has this wonderful, Van Basten-esque quality of making the incredibly difficult look effortlessly simple (his goal against West Ham in the cup, for example) and that, for me, is what makes him, and this goal, so special. It was one of those situations where you think ‘go on, just hit it first time’ but no one ever does because they don’t want to look like utter tits on the telly. He actually did and what a result! I don’t think there’s another player in the league who could’ve scored that goal.
1. Michael Carrick. Fergie may have brought in the best striker in the league to score the goals to win the title; but even this was an endorsement of the faith placed in Carrick. To spend our summer budget on forwards seemed a misdirection of funds given the paucity of options in central midfield. The lesson from 2012 was surely the need for a Yaya Toure, yet no such addition was forthcoming. Over the course of the season the one staple of every tactical adjustment was Carrick. Whether fighting fires as his colleagues threw caution to the Autumn wind, or taking on playmaking duties in pursuit of the narrow victories that took us away from the pack; Carrick was at the heart of all that was good about our displays. In a season where big players suffered spells of injury or loss of form, Michael Carrick was the one constant. Even when a rest was deemed neceessary, he was regularly introduced off the bench to bring desperately needed control. He is the one player we cannot function without.
2. David De Gea. Modern football has laid waste to the once cherished value of perspective. Anyone who has risked writing a blog about our club will be well aware of our global fanbase’s fierce instinct to defend any player by virtue of their employment by United. Many members of the press are also bereft of reason leading to countless articles amounting to little more than a persecution of a player on account of being young and foreign. The truth with De Gea was somewhere in the middle – potentially great but undoubtedly lacking in some essential qualities. Despite what Football Manager might suggest, being annointed as a potential great does not automatically mean it will come to pass (ask Fredd Adu). Added pressure came from the reality that Ferguson’s record with goalkeepers is ‘patchy.’ The response from De Gea, under the guidance of Eric Steele, has been magnificent. Where once his indecision seemed to infect those around him he now imbues those ahead of him with confidence. His response to the physicality of Upton Park was a standout example of his progression and married to his unrivalled shot stopping ability and distribution underlined his emergence as the finest keeper in the league. Not bad for a reformed donut thief.
3. Our rivals. To win the league by such a margin at such an early stage was a godsend for the smug but an anti-climax for fans of high drama. Maybe after so many years of nerve-shredding emotional rollercoasters it was only fair to let the great man enjoy his final weeks free from anxiety. In the cold light of May it is astoundingly poor that the collective might (and sugar daddies) of Chelsea and City submitted so early in the season. It has made it too easy for our detractors to belittle our achievements as being in a ‘poor league.’ The strengthening of our opponents in the summer will serve to benefit our own development as the only way to improve is to deal with challenges from others.
4. The Bernabeu. It might seem odd to choose a game we drew given all our domestic victories but it was a special match for many reasons. It felt like entering the lion’s den. The first real European test of this young side, already derided as Ferguson’s weakest of recent years. Madrid looked men capable of handing out a lesson to our boys – one of the standout impressions of that game was the claustrophobia induced by Madrid’s pressing. Yet our apprentices stood up to be counted – Jones showed brain as well as brawn in midfield, Evans justified the ommision of Vidic with supreme anticipation, De Gea reminded the Spanish league what they had lost and Our Danny Welbeck shone brighter than any. I felt excited that this team was better than I had hoped and that night could be the start of something special over the years to come.
5. No need to be clever on this one – van Persie volley against Villa. Not since Rooney’s derby bicycle kick has there been a strike of such purity to set Old Trafford alight. A moment of wonder that none who witnessed it will tire of revisiting. A special moment from a very special player.
1. My best player this season has got to be Michael Carrick. He’s easily been our most consistent performer throughout the campaign and his contribution to the team is finally starting to be appreciated by the fans. His distribution of the ball is up there with the best in Europe with him pulling off some spectacular passes at critical times, my favourites being his crosses for Hernandez against Chelsea, and earlier in the season, against Newcastle in injury time. However, it’s his passing under pressure where I feel he’s been outstanding with him always somehow maintaining possession of the ball when it looks like he’s going to lose it. His shielding of the defence has improved dramatically this season too with him always showing for the ball to ease the pressure on our defence. I genuinely feel that had it not been for Michael Carrick this season, we’d have been fighting for a top four position.
2. A lot of what Javier Hernandez has achieved this season has often been overlooked what with a certain Dutchman stealing all the headlines. The Mexican’s overall game as improved drastically when compared to last season. His touch has improved and so has the physical aspect of his game. He’s no longer being bullied by defenders and its working wonders for him as he’s holding the ball better than ever and bringing his teammates into the game. He’s even grabbing an assist or two every now and then without compromising his goal tally. The number of goals he’s scored this season is unbelievable when you take into account how few games he’s actually started. Hopefully we’ll see much more of him next season.
3. I don’t think it’s possible to have anyone other than Antonio Valencia to get the most votes for this one. I’ll be the first to admit that his form has picked up a little over the last few weeks but through the season he’s been a massive let down. Fergie trusted him with the holy ‘number 7’ shirt and Antonio seemed to crumble under the pressure for some reason, or so it seems. He’s looked lost on the field and genuinely afraid to have the ball at his feet. Whenever the ball came near him he’d wait for five minutes on the far touchline and end up passing back to the right-back. Always taking the safe option. Considering how well he’d played last season, how keen he was to pick up the ball and charge at the opposition defence, you can safely say that his decline has been nothing short of shocking, especially considering that he’s actually someone who would perform relatively well at a consistent level. There were times this year when I ended up think we’d have been better off with ten men, such was how little he added to our game. I do however feel he’ll be back to his best next season and hopefully a change of manager will do him some good.
4. Having just lost to Everton and scraped a win against Fulham at Old Trafford, the game against Southampton away was always going to be an important fixture for us if we were going to keep up with Chelsea and City who were setting the pace early on. It was also the manager’s thousandth league game in charge so it was all set to be a special one, and it didn’t disappoint. We’d started pretty poorly with Southampton taking the lead early on from a Lambert header but we’d pulled one back soon after as Robin peeled off his marker and buried one past the ‘keeper. Soon after the second-half had restarted, the Saints had retaken the lead again, this time through a Schneiderlin header after a costly Evra slip. The game was starting to take a turn for the better around the 70th minute when we won a penalty and up stepped Robin to bring us back into the game, or so we thought. Somehow, for some reason, the Dutchman had decided to do a ‘Panenka’ and it went straight at the goalie. At that point, with your best player on the pitch doing that, you just had to hold your hands up and admit that it wasn’t going to be your day. Luckily, Robin van Persie had other ideas. At the 87th minute, a Rafael cross was met well by a Rio Ferdinand header which came off the post but was bundled in by Robin. Lifeline. With the seconds fading away and the game pretty much over, a lovely corner by Nani landed on Robin van Persie’s head who then diverted it expertly past the ‘keeper a third time and hit the back of the net. Amazing. It was our first real glimpse of just how special a player Robin van Persie is.
5. Robin van Persie’s volley against Aston Villa was a mesmerising goal, but for some reason everyone has now forgotten his earlier goal in the FA Cup against West Ham. Unbelievable! We’d shot ourselves in the foot after a promising start and the Hammers were leading with only a few minutes left on the clock. On come Robin van Persie and Ryan Giggs. The goal itself was something out of a Hollywood movie. The pass, the control, the reaction of the defender who was in complete disbelief at what he’d just witnessed, then Robin’s touch to take it passed him and then the final blow, a shot with his supposedly ‘weaker’ foot which went under the hapless ‘keeper and had rescued a replay at Old Trafford for us. Oh, and let’s not forget that ‘Cantona-esque’ celebration. What a player. What a goal.
1. Between Carrick and Van Persie. I’ve long been a fan of Carrick, even before it was the ‘in thing’ to be. He’s a great passer of the ball, has great vision and does his fair share of defensive work, making many important tackles that often go unnoticed. Couple this with the fact that he doesn’t have a settled MF partner, it makes his contribution even more outstanding. Having said that, the impact that Van Persie has made this season is unbelievable. Not only has he brought a touch of class couple with great clinical finishing in the main, his delivery of free kicks and corners has produced a significant improvemnet in the return we get from those situations. His arrival seems to have galvanised the rest of the squad, who seem to believe that with him in their team, anything is possible. I think it is for this reason that RvP just shades it over Carrick for me this season. Just.
2. Again, a choice from two. David De Gea and Rafael. While I think we all knew deep down that Dave was the real thing and given time to develop physically and adapt to the English game he would go on to be one of the top keepers in the country, maybe even Europe (which he is on the way to fulfilling with some commanding displays this season and looking generally solid), the jury was very much out on Rafael. Yes, we loved him, how could you not? Tenacious, willing, combative and attacking. But at times a liability. Would he get injured before he got sent off or vice versa? When would his concentration lapse and cost a goal (see Everton last season at Old Trafford). We, the fans, were willing him to be one of ours, a great in the mould of Gary and Denis. We really wanted him to get there, but it looked increasingly unlikely to happen. Until this season. He came back after the summer a changed player. Maturity had come into his game. No more rash tackles, his timing had improved, and whilst going forward he was as exciting as ever, he could now defend as well. Yes, he still had the odd moment or two, but he had an outstanding season and for me has cemented that right back role as his own now.
3. Going out to Real Madrid. Or more to the point, the sending off in that game. We’d got a good result in Madrid and could even have possibly won the game. We’d started to believe that actually we weren’t as far away from competing in Europe this year as we’d all secretly thought. Then to find ourselves one up and cruising the game, looking more and more likely to get the second, when like a thunderbolt out of the dark sky above Old Trafford, a Turkish ref flashed his red card at Nani for what was at the very most a yellow for being reckless. We lost it for the next 10-15 minutes. The players and coaching staff were in as much shock as the fans watching around the ground and further afield. Madrid too full advantage, but were in the end lucky to hang on to a victory when we reawoke for the last quarter of an hour. It just left a sens eof what could have and maybe should have been. Emptiness.
4. Tough one this, there’s been many top quality goals this year, but I think Van Persie’s against Villa at Old Trafford has to be the one. Sheer quality, and good enough to clinch the title on it’s own.
5. The last one against West Brom, purely for the occasion, entertainment and the support from our away end.