Manchester United enter the final eight games of the Premier League campaign with both eyes fixed on retaining the trophy they reclaimed last season, and will use every bit of muscle and sinew to swat away would-be gate crashers Manchester City for England’s highest honour.
The past few weeks have been a meditation in the bi-polar nature of football fandom. One minute we are all pondering the apocalypse, having to watch City lift what we have come to refer to as our trophy, the next we are imagining Patrice Evra hoisting our 20th league title after every passing three points. And I would not have it any other way.
United’s next eight opponents are Blackburn (A), Queens Park Rangers (H), Wigan (A), Aston Villa (H), Everton (H), Manchester City (A), Swansea (H), and finally Sunderland (A). None of these teams, with the exception being City, ought to pose much of a threat to United. It is games like these, where one does not feel challenged, that are paradoxically the most challenging of all.
Complacency has plagued this current edition of Manchester United more than its inability to stay healthy or its midfield’s lack of proper class in the absence of Paul Scholes. When United have failed this season, it has been because the overall play lacks the necessary pace and desire to win in the modern Premier League. Gone are the days when United could have their opposition defeated in the tunnel. And winning number 20 may be the biggest accomplishment in terms of the difficulty required to achieve it, than almost anything else Sir Alex Ferguson has done at the club.
Regardless of the team’s lacklustre performance against Fulham last night, an important fact remains: United are three points up on City, and only three goals behind on goal difference. It is time to end the discussions of whether or not this season’s team is “vintage United” or not, because it has become abundantly clear that we live in different times, certainly not “vintage” ones for either the league or for our beloved club. The Premier League is just better as a whole.
Going forward, the key to United’s success in the league is the team playing with requisite desire and composure. Sir Alex is perhaps the greatest motivator of the modern footballer in management today and I would rather have no one else in charge of the quest. Winning number 20 will not be a cakewalk, nor will it be one without drama. But I feel confident that United will be on their best Lloyd Banks, and have that hunger for more.
It all starts with defeating Blackburn on Monday. After the team’s dire display against Steve Kean’s men, one ought to expect that a fully-fit United team will be out to prove that Rovers’ 3-2 win on New Year’s Eve was a mere blip on the way to another league title. Sir Alex said that winning 1-0 is the hallmark of champions, and eight more of those will see United continue its control of the Premier League throne.