Manchester United Shouldn’t Celebrate Just Yet

Sir-Alex-FergusonAs Mark Halsey blew the whistle at Old Trafford on Sunday evening fans and journalists alike busied themselves with a proclamation concerning the end of Manchester City’s brief reign as champions of the Premier League. On the face of things, it’s hard to disagree. After all, United are 12 points clear at the top with Sir Alex Ferguson determined not to lose the title to the noisy neighbours for a second year in a row. And with Robin Van Persie still firing on all cylinders and continually proving that his last year at Arsenal was by no means the peak of his career, alongside the bolstering effect of Nemanja Vidic’s return at the back, it’s difficult to argue. If the momentum is with any team, it is with United.

It’s also difficult to explain City’s recent performances. Against Liverpool they were made to look ordinary at best for much of the match against a side which played one of their best games of the season thus far but has been generally playing like a mid-table team. And the same thing happened again at Southampton on Saturday, though ‘ordinary’ might be a little generous in the eyes of many. Defensively they were brutal, Gareth Barry’s calm and collected finish into the corner of his own net summing up a howling performance for which Roberto Mancini claimed only three of his players turned up. You could argue that they lack that term so often tossed about in the world of football – mental strength, you could argue that Mancini makes consistently bizarre managerial choices or you could argue that many of the current squad have either privately conceded the title to United and don’t feel the need to overly stretch themselves on the pitch anymore, or that at a team which contains no few mercenaries drawn to the club by the lure of substantial paydays, such days are inevitable. United fans won’t be bothering to delve to deeply into whatever is going on in the blue half of Manchester and will simply be happy that their rivals are doing half of the work for them.

But fans and journalists alike shouldn’t be counting United’s chickens before they are hatched and you can be certain that Sir Alex won’t be sitting back and relaxing in the knowledge that United have the title in the bag in February and all they need to do now is turn up at their next 12 games. Cast your mind back roughly a year. With only six games left to play and eight points clear of City, few thought the title would go anywhere except Old Trafford. And yet United faltered and with several draws and defeats, virtually handed the crown to Manchester City on a plate. This season, with 12 games left to play and 36 points still up for grabs, the grand old master will know that the race for the title is by no means over. Despite City’s recent dip in form, which has seen them drop 15 points in the last 12 games as opposed to United’s 4, these are still the current holders and their squad still bears some very impressive names which, with the right attitudes and manipulation, can deliver the goods. Now, in the final run towards May, is the time when it counts, and Mancini must ensure that his big names stand up and be counted. In his favour, to some degree at least, is the fact that United are still involved in the Champions League for the foreseeable future, while Mancini and company will be remaining in England until the summer at least. A balancing act will be required on Ferguson’s part ensuring that despite their challenges elsewhere, they maintain their winning form back in the Premier League.

So while things are certainly looking positive for the red half of Manchester, it’s a little too soon to be predicting a 20th league title for United. Sure, the engravers can be getting to work on the trophy, inscribing ‘Manchester’ on the base, but they’ll have to wait a little longer to see which word comes next.

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