As you will know if you’ve listened to the latest edition of the Totally Football Show, the 2011/12 Premier League season was full of absolutely extraordinary events.
But among the most extraordinary was the fact that Manchester United bottled the title.
After Manchester City lost to Arsenal on April 8 of that season, United were eight points clear with just six games remaining.
But then they suffered a shock defeat to Wigan, before a remarkable 4-4 draw with Everton truly opened up the race for City. United had been 4-2 up with seven minutes to play, the crowd were celebrating a five-point lead at the top of the table and they had the possibility of winning the title by beating City at the Etihad a few days later.
However, late goals from Nikita Jelavic and Stephen Pienaar turned things upside down: United were now only three points clear, and with City’s superior goal difference, suddenly they were in the driving seat.
“This was potentially a result that swayed Sir Alex Ferguson on David Moyes’s suitability for his job when he left,” said Daniel Storey on this week’s Totally Football Show. “It was absolutely remarkable: for everything we knew about Manchester United, whether you grew up in the 80s or the 90s – this just didn’t happen. They didn’t do this. They didn’t allow these things to slip when they had complete control of the situation.
“You saw the players at the end [of the Everton game], they had exactly the same look on their faces as they did against Sunderland when they realised Manchester City had done it. It was this kind of disbelief that they had lost control of something they had in their hands.
“They didn’t do this. This was Newcastle, or Arsenal – other clubs did this, not them. Ferguson left a year later and was probably ready to do so then, but I think this damaged him, in terms of how long he stayed for: if they had won the title that season perhaps he would have stayed around for a few more seasons, or maybe even left that summer, but he would’ve left a different manager. This really hurt him.”
Perhaps the two biggest games of that season were the two Manchester derbies: City won the first 6-1, but Michael Cox argued that United’s performance was worse in that encounter at Eastlands, which City won 1-0.
Michael said: “The 6-1 I think was a bit of a flattering reflection of the game. Really what happened was City were deservedly two or three ahead, United had gone down to ten men when Jonny Evans went off, but Ferguson asked them to do, by and large what he always did when they went down to ten men: keep on playing as he wanted from the outset and try to get back in the game.
“There have been so many times for Manchester United over the years when that’s paid off – you can look at Ryan Giggs’s goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal when they had gone down to ten men – but this was an occasion where it went the other way. City I think scored three goals in stoppage time, or after the 89th minute.
“Where United did play really badly was the 1-0, three games from the end of the campaign, because United were in that funny situation that so often seems to trip up teams, where they didn’t need to win – a draw would’ve been fine.
“I think they went there hoping to get a 0-0 – they played, unusually, really really defensively. I remember Park Ji-sung being asked to do a man-marking job on Yaya Toure: we’d seen Park do a similar thing against someone like Andrea Pirlo, but Toure was obviously a completely different player to play against. Park just kept almost being pushed over by Toure.
“I think I’m right in saying that United didn’t have a shot on target in that game, so from Ferguson’s perspective, I think that was really where United really let themselves down, rather than the 6-1.”
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