The title race might be all but over but, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s words from 2006 still ringing in his ears, Jose Mourinho knows that the long-term fightback against Manchester City begins now.
“What’s the point?”
“I remember Sir Alex Ferguson gave some interviews saying, 'We need to improve a lot, because they raised the bar to such a level they won two titles in a row’. The biggest manager in the Premier League felt that moment as the click for the improvement of the team and then the team won the title back in 2006/07.
“That's why I think every match until the end of the season is an important match for us, because it's not just about the points, it's not just about finishing in the top four – which is important – but trying to finish second, trying to play the best we can, trying to improve the players individually the best we can, trying to be the best possible team in the end of the season and then trying to start the next Premier League in a good way.”
The Reds put together nine straight league wins and, although Chelsea could not be reined in, Ferguson’s men reduced the final deficit from 15 to eight points. More importantly, they built momentum.
They opened the following Premier League campaign with 11 wins from 13 and edged in front of Mourinho’s Chelsea. After they went top in the first weekend of October, top spot was never relinquished.
Mourinho has time to experiment to find the right attacking mix, while January acquisition Alexis Sanchez can continue to build rapport with his new team-mates, as Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra did after arriving in January 2006.
The hunt for the FA Cup and pursuit of a Champions League spot means competition for places will remain intense. Should United find success at Wembley in May, a third major trophy in two seasons will bolster the sense of belief.
Perhaps mostly importantly, it will send a message to City and United’s other top-four rivals: that Mourinho’s lads are hungry, determined and snapping at the heels of those around them.
It’s worth remembering that, bar United, no one has retained the title since Chelsea in 2006. Portsmouth, Wolves and Liverpool are the only other clubs to have successfully defended a top-flight title since World War Two.
City may appear impregnable but, in football, change is never too far away.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.