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 warrior type of defending he’s famous for. Having him back is a real bonus.” The latter sentiment also applies to Darren Fletcher, who has surpassed all expectations in battling ulcerative colitis, making 10 appearances up to the year's end. “Every day is a battle,” says Fletch. “I have to watch my diet and take certain medication or it could come back, but I feel great.”
Evolution, not revolution
Wingers, more than any other position, capture the essence of Manchester United’s style: fast, incisive, swashbuckling, counter-attacking football. So it was the talk of the terraces when Sir Alex dispensed with wide men earlier this season, albeit temporarily, in favour of a new diamond system. “If it turns out we play the diamond consistently it’d be revolutionary because it goes against our history,” Sir Alex said in October. “But the level of the game in England and Europe is so high that making yourself unpredictable is a strength.” That last point is key. This wasn’t an identity crisis but an enhancement of United’s philosophy. With dynamic attackers like van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck, Kagawa, Young, Nani and Cleverley all easily accommodated in a variety of positions and systems, it's clear that fluid movement, quick passing, spontaneity and unpredictability are attributes Sir Alex craves. The ability to switch from 4-3-3 to a midfield diamond, 4-2-3-1 or a more familiar 4-4-2 is another string to the Reds’ bow in an ever-evolving, more sophisticated football landscape.
Back to front
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That seemed to be the mantra for United’s defenders in the first part of 2012/13, as they offset a certain