November to February
P17, W12, D4, L1. GS: 39 GC:13
The first league game in November saw the visit of Wolves to Old Trafford. The pre-match talk centred around the inclusion of Owen Hargreaves. Sadly for the former Bayern Munich midfielder, the much anticipated return lasted barely five minutes and he was never seen in a United shirt again. His replacement on the day, Bébé did not fare much better on the pitch as he faced the ignominy of being a substitute substituted after an erratic display. United managed to sneak the three points late on thanks to a Ji Sung Park strike.
Next up was the small matter of the Manchester derby at Eastlands but this occasion passed by relatively unnoticed due to the home side’s negative tactics as the game ended goalless and without incident.
Villa Park has been a happy hunting ground over the years both in league and cup competitions for United but after 75 minutes, the Reds found themselves two goals down after another insipid away performance. Thankfully, the much renowned never say die attitude that resonates from every section of the club shone through as goals from Macheda and Vidic claimed a share of the spoils.
A routine 2-0 home victory against Wigan followed soon after but was notable for the return to action of Wayne Rooney after his injury lay-off to a lukewarm reception from the Old Trafford faithful. Perhaps mindful of a negative reaction, the manager chose to introduce the Englishman at the same time as Paul Scholes to help to quell any disquiet. Wigan in the end were architects of their own downfall in many ways after being reduced to nine men. A rare Evra header was followed by a late Hernández one to secure the three points for the home side.
United’s biggest win of the season arrived shortly after, as Blackburn Rovers were steamrollered 7-1 thanks in the main to Berbatov’s five goals which equalled a Premier League record. It was a day when the home team were at their imperious best with Anderson standing out in midfield with accurate passing and driving runs that Blackburn had no answer to. The fourth goal that arrived shortly after half time will long be remembered as the team goal of the season. Berbatov picked up the ball in an unaccustomed position at left back and after swapping passes with Evra, pinged a glorious pass out wide to Nani who made his way towards the box before cutting the ball back to the on-rushing Bulgarian to fire home. The move was symptomatic of the flowing football displayed by the team that day.
Arsenal at home is always a pivotal match for United and a solid defensive display coupled with an instinctive Park header saw the Reds to victory against their arch rivals. The second half saw a missed penalty from Rooney as he struggled to regain full fitness and form. This malaise in his play was set to continue for a few matches yet.
Following Chelsea’s suspect decision to postpone their home fixture with United a full 24 hours before the game due to adverse weather conditions, the team had to wait until Boxing Day to return to league action where a dull two goal victory against Sunderland was achieved thanks to a Berbatov brace. A Midlands away double header then followed with a trip to Birmingham followed closely by a visit to the Hawthornes to take on West Brom as the New Year began. The trip to St Andrew’s saw a scrappy 1-1 draw played out with more frustration for United on their travels thanks to a late Bowyer equaliser. Rooney and Hernández struck a few days later to give the Reds three points against West Brom although the home side will count themselves unlucky not to pick up at least a point after missing a penalty and having claims for another after a suspect Gary Neville lunge.
Stoke City were the first visitors to Old Trafford in 2011 and went home with a narrow defeat after goals from Hernández and Nani. United managed to keep their unbeaten record in tact following a goalless draw at White Hart Lane which saw Rafael fall foul of Mike Dean’s yellow card on two occasions prompting an early bath for the feisty Brazilian. The match quickly lapsed into stalemate as both sides seemed happy to leave the game with a point in the bag.
Birmingham were duly dispatched 5-0 in late January which saw Berbatov’s third hat trick of the season. Incredibly, this meant the Bulgarian was on 17 goals at the half way stage. Unfortunately for United, he would only add three goals to that tally in the second half of the season.
United’s trip to Bloomfield Road to take on Blackpool brought yet another poor away display followed by a late rally to secure the points. Trailing 2-0 and with little sign of inspiration, the manager brought on a couple of renowned game-changers Giggs and Hernández and the picture rapidly altered. A Berbatov brace sandwiched by a Hernández clinical finish brought yet another Lazarus like recovery from this Manchester United side who were starting to feel that a record 19th league title could be a possibility with their nearest rivals starting to self implode.
February dawned with a solid regulation 3-1 victory at home to Villa with Rooney returning to the goal trail and showing signs of finally getting into his stride once more.
The seemingly inevitable first defeat duly arrived when a visit to Wolves saw the home side emerge victorious. The omens were not looking favourable before the match started when Rio Ferdinand pulled up with a calf injury in the warm up that was to sideline him for 8 weeks. Despite Nani’s early strike, United looked lethargic and lacking in invention throughout as they tasted defeat in the league for the first time in 29 matches dating back to April 2010 against Chelsea.
The perfect way to bounce back presented itself the following Saturday with the magnitude of the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. The performance paled into apparent insignificance following a goal of such majesty to claim the three points by Rooney in the 79th minute. The undisputed individual goal of the season came courtesy of a deflected Nani cross that saw Rooney launch an athletic bicycle kick that sailed past Hart in the City goal. It is easy to forget the quality of United’s opener from Nani just before half time as he collected a through ball from Giggs before slotting past the advancing Hart. Amazingly, it proved to be Nani’s last goal of the season as the “noisy neighbours” were put in their place. With Ferdinand absent, this was the game that saw Chris Smalling really come of age at the heart of the United defence as he demonstrated composure and class that belies his lack of experience at the top level.
The final game of February away at Wigan saw the start of a partnership that would ultimately drive the team towards their much coveted 19th title. Rooney and Hernández contributed three in this game and a further nine in the remaining league games. The partnership blossomed to such an extent that it left the league’s leading scorer to sample life on the bench for much of the remainder of the season. Probably the best away performance followed the selection of these two together and the Reds left the DW Stadium with a 4-0 victory with Fábio adding the final goal in the last few minutes.
Part 1 can be found here and Part 3 can be found here
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