knockout phase. Back-to-back defeats followed in the final two group matches, away to Galatasaray and at home to Cluj, but neither result affected United’s position as winners of Group H. “Our minds are focused on challenging all the way to the final,” declared Sir Alex. The next hurdle on that path comes in the formidable form of Real Madrid. Bring it on!
The Dutch destroyer
In his Newcastle programme notes, Sir Alex compared Robin van Persie’s impact to that made by Eric Cantona. “He has made a vital difference to our chances in this season’s title race,” wrote the boss. In front of goal, Robin has the calm, ruthless efficiency of a hitman. “He’s similar to Ruud in the way he puts chances away,” says Ryan Giggs. But the Dutchman’s adroit hold-up play, elegant touch and enthusiasm for setting up goals have been equally important. The 29-year-old looks like he’s played here all his life. “When you feel wanted, it gives you wings,” Robin says. If 2013 brings more of the same, he could be the final piece in Sir Alex’s latest jigsaw.
A timely boost
It’s not only been the season of the comeback in terms of winning matches in 2012/13; two key figures in the Reds dressing room also made welcome returns. The importance of Nemanja Vidic to United was reflected in the ovation he received upon his recent comeback against Sunderland, while his influence in defence was sorely missed in the 19 matches since his fleeting early season reappearance from a seven-month lay-off. Sir Alex said: “He brings great experience, that