2009 was a reasonably successful year for United yet again. Last season ended on the most bitter of notes with the 2-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League final and kind of soured another successful campaign. Suddenly, everyone forgot about the 11th Premier League win and the victory in the two less prestigious trophies (I mean, come on, do you seriously believe I'd rank the Carling Cup victory as a watershed moment, especially with it being treated by us as the Worthless Cup not more than a decade earlier?) However, the worst thing about the Champions League defeat was not so much in the loss itself, but in the seemingly huge gulf in class that was visible between United and Barca. All credit to the Catalans, they had probably the best season by a club in modern times and their success was somehow regarded as evidence of United's failings. On top of that, we had Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez departing over the summer. No wonder then that all the pundits proclaimed doom and gloom for us in the pre-season predictions. So how have we fared till now?
Let's regard the tournaments one by one:
- Premier League: To say that we have underperformed is an understatement. United have only fired in fits and bursts and spurts. We haven't been helped by a decimated defence either. No one has ever won 4 league titles in a row in English football history, but the fact that United are only two points off the pace at this stage of the season augurs reasonably well. If we can put together a run in the latter half of the campaign like we usually do, a 19th league title (beating Liverpool's earlier record) won't look as impossible as the experts had us believe pre-season.
- FA Cup: Sunday is a mouth-watering clash between United and Leeds United at Old Trafford. This will be a especially evocative memory for me, because I was fully converted into a diehard United supporter when I saw United beating Leeds 3-2 at home during the treble season. The FA Cup has lately proven the hardest to win for us (the last time we won it was in 2004) and nothing would please fans like me more (aside from the League title and the Champions League title :P) than to see us extend our record number of wins in the FA Cup to 12.
- Champions League: The yardstick against which Fergie has measured this latest great time of his, has been AC Milan. It was in 2005 after the consecutive 1-0 losses away and at home to Milan that everyone probably realized that the team of van Nistelrooy, Keane, Solskjaer and all wouldn't win the European Cup. 2007 saw us snatch a memorable last-gasp victory at Old Trafford but Milan gave us a footballing lesson in the return leg (in much the same way as Barca did last season) Beckham's return would be an attraction here, but it would be interesting to see whether United manage to overcome Milan for the first time over two legs (it would also be the first time that they probably start with the tag of favourites for a two-legged fixture against Milan). Another Champions League triumph probably doesn't look likely on current form, but the Milan fixture would be crucial in determining how far we can go this year.
- League Cup: We are up against the noisy neighbours in the semi-finals. I do hope that Fergie continues fielding a predominantly young team even against City. God knows that the likes of Gibson, Macheda, Welbeck, Fabio, de Laet and Obertan need big game experience.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been a huge loss, whereas I am still undecided on Tevez. The best players this season by far have been Rooney, Giggs and Fletcher. Enough has been said about the m this season for me to choose to not add my own to cents of opinion.
However, I have been equally impressed by Valencia's contribution. While he doesn't come remotely close to Ronaldo's contribution to the team, he has made his presence felt in his own way. Good pace, reasonably accurate crossing and the ability to track back and defend quite decently - all of these have been on show over the course of half a season; plus his goal-scoring record is already as good as his record at Wigan (7 goals from 28 appearances in comparison to 89 appearances at Wigan)
Berbatov continues to be an enigma. There seems to be an intermittent pattern of great/good performances in a couple of matches on the trot following by frustrating performances in the following ones. But I am one of the believers in the Bulgarian's ability and am backing him to come into his own in the second half of this season, especially if he remains injury-free.
Nani is surely on his way out; he seems to have adopted everything that was frustrating about Ronaldo, while conveniently failing to emulate his work ethic and bravery on the field.
Ferdinand has been injury-prone, while Vidic has not really been at his commanding best. Although it must be said that he seems to be inching back into form over the last few matches.
THE NEW SIGNINGS:
Michael Owen won us over with his last-gasp winner against City and then with his hat-trick at Wolfsburg but he hasn't been scoring as often as everyone at United would like. Still a 50-50 signing for me, since he hasn't been given too many chances by Fergie.
Obertan seems like one for the future. One to watch out for...
Valencia, for me has been a decent success, and he has established for himself a great platform from which to launch himself into the pantheon of great United wingers.
Definitely the Manchester derby. Defensive mistakes cost us two goals but the truth is that our attacking display in the second half was as good as it has been all season. It encapsulated all that is good (and even all that is frustrating) about United. And yes, the experience when Owen's shot went in was almost orgasmic.
Honourable mentions must also be made of the match at White Hart Lane against Tottenham (where we came back from conceding an early goal to beating the high-flying Spurs 3-1), and the home match against Wigan Athletic (5-0 to United).
GOALS OF THE SEASON:
1. Darron Gibson against West Ham United at Upton Park - brilliant long-range efforts just like his two goals against Tottenham in the League Cup.
2. Wayne Rooney against Tottenham at White Hart Lane - wonderful pass by Fletcher from the half-way line to release Rooney who did everything right (including nutmegging a defender) to secure three points
3. Michael Owen for THE GOAL in the Manchester Derby - slide rule pass by Giggs was followed by a nerveless finish.
Honourable mentions must be made of Berbatov's two goals - against Sunderland and Blackburn as well.
Finally, I must say that United made a habit out of winning on the minimum last season. Signs are that we are less solid defensively this season, but that is also encouraging our attackers to score more goals this time around. Hopefully, I'll be writing something about another successful season this time next year (looking back on a very very successful and joyous 2010 for all United fans).
Happy new year to all of you! And "GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED"!!