Now that the unbeaten streak has finally been called what it was – the elephant in the room – and we’ve had that wonderful burden lifted from our shoulders, we can focus on the last third of the season. I remember back in October when Chelsea was atop the table by five points – and we were throwing away leads, not getting away wins – most people chalked it up to the weak side we had this season. The saga with Rooney came and went, but his form from last season never returned. He hasn’t been even half of his former self, which posed many problems considering he almost singlehandedly kept us in the title chase last year.
What happened after October has been nothing short of amazing. Berbatov became a scoring machine and Nani became our best player outright. Even though we were throwing away leads and dropping two points each away match, we still managed to leap frog Chelsea and Arsenal to top of the table. When it almost became comical to drop points, fans clung to the “well, we’re still unbeaten” motto. For me, that wasn’t good enough. Just three or four wins from those draws – even with the rest as losses – would have us a good ten points clear heading into the final part of the season. But, now that we’ve proven we’re not invincible, what’s next? Lots of grit and hard play, that’s what.
We know that Arsenal bottle it most seasons, but lately I feel like we can’t assume that will happen. I know Barcelona seemed to give up at the end of their Champions League tie, but the result had Arsenal 2-1 over, arguably, the best team in the world. They are four points behind us and we’re level on games. Our derby win over City was not only emotional, but we saw Rooney galvanize the crowd at Old Trafford and just about cement his status as a United legend. Say what you will about his transgressions over the last 6 months, you can’t deny how hard he’s worked for our club (regardless of goal tally) and his derby winner will go down as one of the best ever. And while we were all on a high rivaled by no chemical substance, we need to look at the upcoming fixtures and be resolute and determined. Four points clear of Arsenal, eight points clear of City (with a game in hand), ten clear of Spurs, and twelve clear of Chelsea.
People say they can’t see us giving up the title, but back in October when Chelsea was slaughtering teams at will, no one saw them giving up the title this season. What’s important to point out about our lead is that we have the tougher remaining schedule. Our postponed match with Chelsea is in two weeks, then we see them again at home near the end of the season. We’re still in the Champions League (and FA Cup), which is great, but that presents more matches to be weary of and get weary from. We also visit Arsenal, Liverpool, and the unpredictable Hammers & Magpies.
With all these matches coming up, I hope the derby win and iconic goal from Rooney will create a scoring monster for the rest of the season. I hope that Berbatov can be as brilliant as he has been for the first two-thirds of a season. I hope Nani remains our playmaker and best player. I hope we get our back four healthy and running. There is a lot of hoping, but what once seemed impossible is now only twelve games away. When that 19th title comes to Old Trafford, we’ll look at the roller coaster campaign, laugh, maybe cry, and ultimately know that Fergie has, once again, proven why he’s the best manager in football history.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasDunham