14/05/2011 16:00, Report by Nick Coppack
Title by title: 2008/09
Champions of England and Champions of the world. It wasn’t a bad season.
Not that it began particularly well, mind you. The Reds won just two of the first seven fixtures (both against Portsmouth) and lost the European Super Cup to Zenit St Petersburg in Monaco. At the end of September, the Reds, incredibly, occupied 15th spot. But once Sir Alex’s men clicked into gear (and club-record signing Dimitar Berbatov settled in), United’s matches soon made for must-see viewing.
Between late September and Christmas, the Reds lost just one league game (away at Arsenal) and had inched closer to the top of the tree. By the time United flew to Japan to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup over Christmas, the Reds were fourth in the league, behind Aston Villa, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Then, as Sir Alex’s men so often do, United turned on the style. After returning from the Far East as world champions, the side won 11 league games on the trot. Central to the title charge was Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, who ended up with 30 league goals between them.
Edwin van der Sar and the Reds defence played their part, too. Indeed, the Dutchman set a new English, British and European record for the most minutes - 1,113 - without conceding in the top-flight. The goalkeeper wasn't beaten between 8 November and 4 March.
United's imperious form meant Sir Alex's men had gone from being six points behind Liverpool in mid-December to seven points clear of the Merseysiders when they arrived at Old Trafford on 14 March. A home win would almost certainly seal a record-equalling 18th league title and put the Reds on the brink of English footballing history.
But United don't do things the easy way. On a freak afternoon many fans won’t want reminding of, Liverpool won 4-1. Then United lost away at Fulham and, suddenly, there was only one point in it.
When Aston Villa went 2-1 up at Old Trafford the following weekend, it looked like Sir Alex’s men had crumbled. But Ronaldo dragged the Reds back into the game and then 17-year-old Italian Federico Macheda scored a fairytale injury-time winner on his debut to