Every day’s a school day, says the old adage, and this season has been riddled with lessons for every player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad.
The Reds have been tested throughout the campaign and subjected to unforgiving examinations of resolve, mentality and ability - yet have come through the other side with a wealth of knowledge to tap into.
The disappointing concession of an eight-point lead has left United's title defence astride a knife-edge but, however the final round of fixtures pans out, Sir Alex Ferguson's squad has rarely looked so well set for the challenges ahead. Here’s why…
Since emerging from the wreckage of Munich, Manchester United has been a club built on its spirit and obstinate refusal to bow to adversity. This season has tested our mettle to its breaking point; heaping injuries galore on top of the usual burden of learning on the job. Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher, first-team fixtures in recent seasons, have made just 10 appearances apiece, a figure barely passed by Anderson and Tom Cleverley, who started the season as the Reds’ first-choice central midfield pairing. They have headlined a lengthy list of injury victims, yet still the champions have honourably defended the title won last season by a team with considerably more experience. "As soon as you walk through the door here it [character] is drilled into you,” says Michael Carrick. “The young lads who have arrived at the club or come up through the youth ranks have all got huge amounts of ability and, at different times of the season, they’ve all stood up and played their part. The experience they’ll gain will be invaluable and stand them in good stead for years to come.”
Tiers, no fears
In football, youth stands the greatest chance of success when flanked by experience, and the current United squad boasts both ends of the age scale, as well as a sturdy bridge between the two. “The manager always looks to have that,” says Ryan Giggs. “He keeps the old players around who bring the experience, like me and Scholesy, but he constantly brings young players through too. So we’ve got that base of older players, then the ones who are in their mid-20s to 30 and then the really young players, so there are different tiers in the team.” Having removed a glut of over-30s from his squad last summer, the subsequent influx of youngsters has substantially freshened Sir Alex’s roster. The side that started the 2011 Champions League final had an average age of 28.09;