At first glance, it would seem almost obtuse to suggest that this has been anything other than a perfect season for Manchester United. “We want our trophy back”, that familiar refrain from the Stretford End, has evolved once more into “We won our trophy back”, the cocksure attitude born from United fans becoming accustomed to success and the domination of the Premier League. City’s victory last season was akin to a toddler dressed in baby blue ripping the favourite toy out his chubbier sibling dressed in red. United have their toy back and if it is ripped from them again, it will be kicking and screaming.
It was a good send off for Sir Alex Ferguson, but not a perfect one. When the ‘Godfather’ sits in his sunny courtyard, feet up and a glass of red in hand, it will be the lack of consistent success in the Champions League that nags at him. A competition far closer to the Scot’s heart than the FA Cup, driving Manchester United to the top of the European pile was the critical element of that famous determination to knock “Liverpool off their perch.” The impossible last gasp victory over Bayern Munich in 1999 should have heralded the start of a new power in Europe, but in the end, only John Terry’s footwear gave Ferguson another taste of glory.
It is just as well then that the Premier League was won by such a margin this season. But even the most fervent United supporter would be hard pressed not to concede that United have been aided by a lack of serious competition. Defending a title, it is said, is harder than winning one in the first place and United were helped by a City side unable to replicate the swaggering confidence they exuded last year. Chelsea were bereft of internal confidence with the megalomaniacal operations of Roman Abramovich and Arsenal have barely been a blip on the Premier League title radar.
As a team, United have been far from consistent across all areas off the pitch, often relying on the instincts of Robin Van Persie. It is no secret that the midfield in particular will need addressing urgently as United prepare for next season. With that in mind, here is a look at each players performance and their future at the club.
David de Gea
A revelation this season after such a shaky start to his United career. Almost single-handedly kept United in the running against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and will be a fixture in the Old Trafford net for a few seasons – if he can work on his presence at crosses. 9/10
Has failed to establish himself as serious competition to De Gea, has rarely been used, and may find himself surplus to requirements this summer. Conceding 5 goals in United’s last game certainly won’t have helped his cause, regardless of whether they were his fault. 5/10
Rafael da Silva
Was identified as a weak link by Madrid due to his impatience in the tackle defensive shortcomings. Still a huge improvement over last season and an undoubted threat going forward, but he remains raw in many ways and will need to shore up his game. 7/10
Captained the team for the most part and remains a dominant personality in the dressing room and on the pitch. Often effective when venturing forward but it could be argued his defensive reliability is occassionally questionable. Nevertheless, a solid season for the Frenchman. 8/10
Imperious when called upon to perform, an effective leader, and has made up for his gradual loss of pace through near-perfect positioning and organisation of his back four. Has just signed a new one year contract, and if he can stay reasonably healthy will see decent amounts of playing time next season. 8/10
Has impressed in the few opportunities afforded to him and has pace and athleticism, and will look to push Evra a little harder next season for that left-back spot. 6/10
Has rarely been discussed this season – the telltale signs of a steady, reliable defender who makes good decisions. Has shown excellent consistency despite often playing second fiddle to Ferdinand and Vidic. 7/10
The crowd favourite who would continue playing with two broken legs and a shattered nose if he had to. Has occassionally struggled with injuries this season but has been excellent when called upon. 7/10
Has also struggled with injuries has been unable to make as much of an impact as he did on his arrival. 6/10
Bows out of professional football for the second time in as many years and by his own admission, not quite in the way he would have wanted. A niggling knee injury limited him to just 16 appearances. Football will miss him. 7/10
Has been unable to establish himself as a starter in a chop and change midfield, and may find himself facing stiff competition for playing time if fresh blood is brought in. 2013/14 will be an absolutely critical season for Cleverley to prove himself. 6/10
Like de Gea, a player who has stepped his game up to such an extent he is almost unrecognisable. The beating heart of United’s midfield, controlling the engine room with ranged, incisive passing. Carrick himself might hope to be a little more influential against the big guns of Europe but other than, a fine season. 9/10
A poor season for the Ecuadorean. A menacing, lightning fast threat last season, his confidence appears to have waned considerably. Whereas once a burst of pace would be finished with a cross right on the head of a striker, this season the runs have petered out, and the sight of him with his head down, sighing, has been far too common. 4/10
United fans will have lost count of the number of times Nani has made them want to tear their hair out. Dazzlingly brilliant at times, and infuriatingly sketchy at others, the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Madrid is an opportunity he has failed to take. Currently in the midst of a complicated contract situation, his time at Old Trafford may be running out. 5/10
Six years at Old Trafford and the Brazilian is no closer to proving he should be a fixture in the first team. His languid playing style combined with inconsistency and a lack of goals will almost certainly see him shipped out to pastures new. 3/10
United’s elder statesman has no plans to retire and has looked entirely comfortable and productive when called upon. His ability to fit into a world class team at the the age of 39 is remarkable. Carefully chosen appearences and his pilates may well see him in the Premier League at 40 years old. 8/10
Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have been happy to treat this season as a learning curve for Kagawa, insisting that the signing from Dortmund will be “even better next season”. Kagawa has been good if unspectacular as a playmaker, but clearly has an eye for goal and 6 goals in 20 Premier League appearances should not be sniffed at. As Ferguson says, expect more next season. 7/10
The ‘Little Pea’ has been unable to find his way to a regular first team spot, but that hasn’t stopped him scoring. Averaging a goal every two games in all competitions, he has been productive for United. It remains to be seen though whether he will be happy playing second fiddle for much longer. 7/10
A dramatic year, to say the least. United supporters have rarely, if ever, been inclined to boo their own players but the frosty reception afforded to Rooney as he shook hands with Ferguson on the last day of the season was a demonstration of their unhappiness with Rooney’s perceived disloyalty. He has been excellent on occasions behind Robin Van Persie, but not trusted against Real Madrid, and with his lowest goals total since he arrived at Manchester United, David Moyes has a serious decision to make. 6/10
Robin Van Persie
The difference maker at times this season. When Joe Hart’s despairing lunge failed to prevent the Dutchman sinking Man City in the last second at the Etihad, it was painful reminder to Mancini of how much Van Persie carried United at times. Despite a goal drought around March, 30 goals across all competitions is an superb first season haul. Some thought his possible fragility would make United regret such an expensive signing, but he has proved otherwise. 9/10