How the Reds won the race
Following United’s coronation as champions, we take a brief look at the Barclays Premier League battle between Sir Alex’s men, Manchester City and early frontrunners Chelsea…
Month-end positions and points for the three teams appear after each paragraph.
Only one of the three teams who were to dominate the top three places throughout the season emerged unscathed from August: Chelsea. Roberto Di Matteo’s European champions did not drop a single point, albeit against three sides that would spend their season in the bottom half of the table, namely Newcastle, Reading and Wigan. Meanwhile, United started with a loss to one of the previous season’s tormentors, Everton, but bounced back by beating Fulham 3-2 at Old Trafford with the aid of first goals from summer signings Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. City also played two games to Chelsea’s three in August, defeating Southampton but drawing with Liverpool at Anfield.
Chelsea – 1st (9 points); Man City – 5th (4 points); United – 7th (3 points)
United and City won games in hand over Chelsea, with van Persie’s hat-trick seeing off Southampton and the Blues reprising their dramatic May win over Queens Park Rangers with another injury-time goal by an Argentine striker. This time it was Carlos Tevez on target. QPR became the first side to take points off Chelsea after the international break but the leaders returned to winning ways against Stoke and, more impressively, away to Arsenal. United also triumphed in a major rival’s backyard, 2-1 at Liverpool, but otherwise won one (Wigan 4-0) and lost one (Spurs 2-3) at home. City stuttered with two draws (Stoke, Arsenal) and a narrow win over Fulham.
Chelsea – 1st (16 points); United – 3rd (12 points); Man City – 4th (12 points)
The Reds averaged more than three goals per league match, completely reversing one of last season’s worst results by winning 3-0 away to Newcastle with goals from Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans and Tom Cleverley. Wayne Rooney opened his account with a double in the 4-2 win over Stoke and Javier Hernandez took his turn in the spotlight with the winning goal in a see-sawing clash at Stamford Bridge. Despite that result, Chelsea still ended October on top after earlier wins over Norwich and Spurs. City had a better month with maximum points from meetings with Sunderland, West Brom and Swansea.
Chelsea – 1st (22 points); United – 2nd (21 points); Man City – 3rd (21 points)
Sir Alex received the perfect early present for his 26th anniversary as manager when United went top in November’s first weekend. Prior to City and Chelsea both being held away, by West Ham and Swansea respectively, the Reds beat Arsenal 2-1 with van Persie inevitably on the scoresheet against his old club. The new league leaders then produced a classic comeback at Aston Villa (3-2 up from 2-0 down) but slipped seven days later to a turning-point defeat at Norwich. Stung, the Reds strung together five straight wins in response, starting with QPR and West Ham back-to-back at OT. Chelsea only picked up three points from four November games, including a dull goalless draw at home to City, and manager Di Matteo was sacked.
United – 1st (33 points); Man City – 2nd (32 points); Chelsea – 3rd (26 points)
The festive month featured three of United’s most thrilling victories. All the goals were scored before the break as Reading were eventually overcome 4-3, Hernandez netted in the 90th minute to beat Newcastle by the same score on Boxing Day and, sandwiched in between, there was the Manchester derby. City cancelled out Rooney’s first-half double through Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta but the dust was still settling after the latter’s late equaliser when van Persie won it with his deflected free-kick. Compared to those three games, wins over Sunderland and West Brom, and certainly a draw at Swansea, were rather more mundane but still helped extend the Reds’ lead to seven points by New Year’s Eve – Sir Alex’s 71st birthday.
United – 1st (49 points); Man City – 2nd (42 points); Chelsea – 3rd (38 points)
The same seven-point gap between United and City was in place at the end of January, although Chelsea fell further behind after losing at home to QPR and only drawing with Southampton and Reading. The Manchester rivals matched each other with three wins and a stalemate apiece, a notable day being Sunday 13 when United beat Liverpool and City replied by winning at Arsenal. The Reds also thrashed Wigan 4-0 away on New Year’s Day and scraped past Southampton 2-1.
United – 1st (59 points); Man City – 2nd (52 points); Chelsea – 3rd (46 points)
Only nine league points were up for grabs and, while City dropped five of theirs, United claimed the lot with three solid wins. Fulham’s resistance was broken by Rooney’s late winner at Craven Cottage, Everton were defeated with goals from van Persie and Ryan Giggs – who maintained his record of scoring in every Premier League season (now 21) – and QPR were overturned at Loftus Road thanks to another Giggs strike and Rafael’s rocket. The month’s key result, however, was City’s shock loss at Southampton, following a home draw with Liverpool. The only victory for Roberto Mancini’s men was at least a notable one against Chelsea, who finished February 19 points behind United.
United – 1st (68 points); Man City – 2nd (56 points); Chelsea – 4th (49 points)
United’s grip on the title race was strengthened in March with three more victories to nil, with David De Gea enjoying his longest run of consecutive clean sheets in the league. Kagawa hit the headlines with a hat-trick in the 4-0 home win over Norwich before one strike proved enough against both Reading (Rooney) and Sunderland (Titus Bramble own goal). City won away at Aston Villa and thumped Newcastle at home but fell further behind the Reds by losing at Everton.
United – 1st (77 points); Man City – 2nd (62 points); Chelsea – 4th (55 points)
City went into the second Manchester derby of the season 15 points – or five victories – behind United, so their triumph at Old Trafford wasn’t anything like as significant as their home success a year ago. It still hurt the Reds, however, and sparked a winning response away to Stoke on the same day City booked a place in the FA Cup final. In the following midweek, the Blues actually closed the gap by beating Wigan as United were held by West Ham. But when City lost 3-1 at Tottenham, it left the Reds needing only to beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford to guarantee a historic 20th league title. Victory was achieved, of course, with van Persie’s glorious second hat-trick for the club. A fitting end to a thrilling title race – and with four games to spare.
United – 1st (84 points); Man City – 2nd (68 points); Chelsea – 3rd (61 points)