Old Trafford isn’t the sort of stadium you hear being described as a happy hunting ground for any team – any team apart from Manchester United. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, they have lost 50 league games at Old Trafford. That may sound like a lot but when you see that the Red Devils have avoided defeat in the other 451, you realise how good a record that is.
In recent years too, it has been excellent. When Ferguson’s side won the title in 2011, they only dropped Premier League points once at home, in a two all draw against West Brom. The home record from that season is the best they have ever had under Ferguson. Since then, it has unsurprisingly dropped off, most noticeably after THAT defeat to Manchester City.
It’s nearly a year to the day since Ferguson had what he described as his worst-ever day with United demolished 6-1 at Old Trafford. That result has set a precedent, even if United have gone onto win 13 of their next 17 home league games.
Away teams playing at Old Trafford don’t have the same inhibitions as they might have before. Look at how Blackburn, a team who went on to be relegated, managed a 3-2 win. Look at how Everton were able to come back from 4-2 down and secure a draw in April.
On the European stage, clubs coming to Manchester haven’t been afraid to attack either. Prior to their victory against Galatasaray in September, United had only won one of their last five European games at the Theatre of Dreams. In that run, they conceded 10. Let’s put that into context – in Ferguson’s other 90 European home games at United, they’d only conceded 70. The performance earlier this year against Athletic Bilbao was the most alarming: for Manchester United weren’t just beaten in both legs, they were outclassed, something that has been all too rare in Ferguson’s reign.
Premier League sides visiting Old Trafford this season have been more courageous too. Fulham, traditionally one of the most goal shy teams away from home, netted two. Wigan on the other hand didn’t score. In fact, they were beaten in the end, 4-0. It looks decisive but the Latics wasted some excellent first half chances before rolling over in the second half. The warning signs then were certainly there prior to Spurs’ visit a few weeks ago. André Villas-Boas’s side were quick and clinical with United appearing unable to cope defensively whenever Spurs drove forward.
Don’t be deceived – United are still an exceptionally strong team at Old Trafford. Last season the Red Devils may have had their worst defensive record at home in the league since 1979 but they also kept an impressive 11 clean sheets. Still, they are not as strong as they have been previously.
United have lost their aura of invincibility at what has been labelled “The Theatre of Dreams.” Indeed, it is many teams’ dreams to come and win at Old Trafford and there has been no better time for those dreams to come true than now. United will no doubt go and finish comfortably inside the top four this season and win a large percentage of their home games. That said teams who have the necessary skill must pluck up the courage to attack at Old Trafford, judging by the results of the last year. As the old adage goes, fortune favours the brave.
*This author expects Manchester United to comfortably beat on Stoke on Saturday