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Old 7th May 2007, 10:48   #1
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Default Highs and lows on title road

Highs and lows on title road
A match-by-match analysis of Manchester United’s Premiership triumph

Words by Bill Edgar
The Times May 7, 2007

Aug 20: Fulham (h) W 5-1 Four-nil up after 20 minutes, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney bury their World Cup differences – a perfect start.

Aug 23: Charlton Athletic (a) W 3-0 Ronaldo excels on first visit to away ground since becoming hate figure as United easily overcome suspensions of Rooney and Paul Scholes.

Aug 26: Watford (a) W 2-1 United are given a few scares as Michael Carrick makes first start.

Sept 9: Tottenham Hotspur (h) W 1-0 Ryan Giggs’s header decides it, but Tottenham deserve a draw.

Sept 17: Arsenal (h) L 1-0 Gilberto Silva misses early penalty but Emmanuel Adebayor’s late strike inflicts what remains United’s only defeat in 28 home games this season.

Sept 23: Reading (a) D 1-1 United are desperately unlucky only to draw their first meeting with Reading and thus fail to displace Chelsea at the Premiership’s summit.

Oct 1: Newcastle United (h) W 2-0 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scores twice and Ronaldo hits the woodwork three times as Newcastle offer pathetic resistance.

Oct 14: Wigan Athletic (a) W 3-1 Giggs, who is making his first appearance for a month, arrives as a substitute with United behind at half-time and inspires their recovery.

Oct 22: Liverpool (h) W 2-0 Scholes scores on his 500th appearance for the club as Liverpool slip 11 points behind United.

Oct 28: Bolton Wanderers (a) W 4-0 Rooney scores a hat-trick, two in an opening quarter in which United are devastating.

Nov 4: Portsmouth (h) W 3-0 Two early goals set up another barnstorming performance.

Nov 11: Blackburn Rovers (a) W 1-0 Rooney misses two sitters but Louis Saha, brilliant in the first half of the season before injury intervened, scores the winner.

Nov 18: Sheffield United (a) W 2-1 After falling behind, United are denied two penalties, but Rooney’s double ensures win.

Nov 26: Chelsea (h) D 1-1 Saha puts United ahead, but Ricardo Carvalho’s header rewards Chelsea’s strong second-half showing.

Nov 29: Everton (h) W 3-0 United come through a scrappy game notable for Gary and Phil Neville opposing each other as captains.

Dec 2: Middlesbrough (a) W 2-1 Ronaldo dives to win the penalty that gives United the lead and, after Middlesbrough equalise, Darren Fletcher quickly restores the advantage.

Dec 9: Manchester City (h) W 3-1 Another outstanding display by Ronaldo as City fail to end 32-year winless run at Old Trafford.

Dec 17: West Ham United (a) L 1-0 United dominate but lose in Alan Curbishley’s first match in charge of West Ham.

Dec 23: Aston Villa (a) W 3-0 Ronaldo is again the inspiration, but Scholes strikes a spectacular volleyed goal.

Dec 26: Wigan Athletic (h) W 3-1 United rest half the team and struggle in a goalless first half, but Ronaldo’s half-time introduction changes the game.

Dec 30: Reading (h) W 3-2 Ronaldo scores his third successive double in a hugely one-sided affair a day before Sir Alex Ferguson’s 65th birthday.

Jan 1: Newcastle United (a) D 2-2 The home team prevent United moving nine points clear at the top of the table with a late equaliser by David Edgar, the teenaged defender.

Jan 13: Aston Villa (h) W 3-1 An easy win as Carrick marks his continuing improvement with his first United goal.

Jan 21: Arsenal (a) L 2-1 United lose deservedly to two late goals but give thanks that Arsenal’s inconsistency during the season means that they are no title threat.

Jan 31: Watford (h) W 4-0 United conclude the match with 46 successive passes, summing up the lopsided contest

Feb 4: Tottenham Hotspur (a) W 4-0 John O’Shea ends the game in goal after Edwin van der Sar breaks his nose, but United fans start to smell the title.

Feb 10: Charlton Athletic (h) W 2-0 United fail to hit the heights in a victory sealed by Rooney’s late goal.

Feb 24: Fulham (a) W 2-1 Ferguson’s team are decidedly second best but snatch victory through Ronaldo’s late breakaway goal.

March 3: Liverpool (a) W 1-0 United have probably not been so outplayed for years in the Premiership, yet win through O’Shea’s scrambled late goal.

March 17: Bolton Wanderers (h) W 4-1 Three early goals see off a weak challenge from the visitors.

March 31: Blackburn Rovers (h) W 4-1 United trail at the interval, but their second-half display matches the first half away to Bolton in October as their best spell of play this season.

April 7: Portsmouth (a) L 2-1 United are slightly unlucky to lose at their bogey ground, but a poor performance even so.

April 17: Sheffield United (h) W 2-0 Another below-par showing, but still a comfortable win.

April 21: Middlesbrough (h) W 1-1 United pay for leaving inform Giggs on the bench in the first half, while Middlesbrough are denied a penalty when O’Shea fouls Lee Dong Gook late on.

Apr 28: Everton (a) W 4-2 United overcome two-goal deficit with four goals in the last half-hour, including an own goal by Phil Neville.

May 5: Manchester City (a) W 1-0 Off-colour display, but Ronaldo’s penalty and Darius Vassell’s miss from the spot for City clinch the title for United.

May 9: Chelsea (a) May 13: West Ham United (h) The tactics that won The Premiership

Manchester United fans spent the early part of last season chanting “4-4-2” at Sir Alex Ferguson as a side with a lone striker struggled to create chances. The manager’s decision to grant their wishes led to more excitement and points and he has largely stuck with the system in this Premiership campaign as well (while favouring 4-5-1 in the Champions League). Louis Saha tended to appear alongside Wayne Rooney up front in the first half of this season while Henrik Larsson was usually the Englishman’s partner during his loan spell at Old Trafford from January to March, since when Saha’s injury problems have forced Ferguson to play Alan Smith, Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo in attack with Rooney.

At home to Manchester City in December, United had Rooney and Saha in the centre of the attack, with Saha dropping deeper to use his aerial ability for flick-ons. Giggs and Ronaldo were on the flanks, although they recorded fairly central average touch positions, a normal occurrence because they often swap wings during games.

The average touch positions of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes tend to be close together as they are creative midfield players with similar styles. United have survived without a tough-tackling midfield player partly because their defence of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Gabriel Heinze has enjoyed an excellent season, as has Edwin van der Sar in goal.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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