Forget the brilliance of Rooney’s goal for one minute and consider its significance. It may well have been the goal that won the title for Manchester United. It certainly ended their city rivals hopes, who are now nine points adrift having played one game more. The blue half of Manchester will now join Tottenham and Chelsea in a battle to secure a top four finish.
That leaves only Arsenal with a reasonable claim to be in the race. The gunners are four points behind with 12 to play, which doesn’t sound much but despite having a far easier run-in (Man U still have to play Chelsea twice as well as Liverpool and Arsenal) you just cannot see it happening. What Sunday’s victory underlined is something that’s been said time and time again, that Ferguson’s teams know how to perform on the big occasion. They know how to win titles and will win games they don’t deserve to.
I have heard Man United fans maintain this side to be the worst they have seen, yet they are still top of the league. If they are so poor does this reflect badly on the quality of opposition? No, I do not think so. Man City, Tottenham and Arsenal have all improved this season, an assertion we shall see for sure when they take on the best in Europe this week. It is clear then that consistency is the key, and United have been, by far the most consistent team in the Premier League.
So how have they managed to be so consistent when their rivals have failed? I think the reaction to Rooney’s goal tells us an awful lot. The United bench went wild; players, staff, and management jumped for joy, and in doing so displayed a true reflection of the unity within the squad. There where no solemn faces, headphones or looks of indifference, they where genuinely delighted. This is why I believe the title is heading for Old Trafford.
The main problem facing top PL managers is squad management, finding the right balance between a settled line-up and keeping your squad players happy. Get this right and you have a team prepared to work hard for each other and one that will grind out wins. Get this wrong and you risk creating a divided, sulky squad who are out for themselves. Competition for places is of course a healthy thing but when you have two or three high profile players competing for one place it’s hard not to imagine feelings of resentment. I’m not sure when you see Man City, Tottenham or Chelsea score the entire bench is necessarily very happy about it.