Nemanja Vidic, Edwin van der Sar and Rio Ferdinand with the Premier League trophy in May 2009.

The story of the 2008/09 Premier League title

As ever, United’s 18th record-equalling title triumph was entirely a squad effort, but the unlikely last-gasp hero was one young lad who wasn’t even part of the first-team squad when the campaign kicked off – step forward one Federico Macheda.

During what turned out to be a monumental weekend in the title race in late April, Liverpool had edged into the box seat thanks to an injury-time winner over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Less than 24 hours after our old rivals had forced the title race door ajar, this relatively unknown 17-year-old Italian came off the bench at Old Trafford to slam it shut in sensational style.

Macheda's 93rd-minute winner against Aston Villa, a peach of a goal on his senior debut, sealed a stunning comeback – United were 2-1 down with just 10 minutes to play – and turned the young Roman striker into an instant hero.

Its psychological significance proved even greater. Sir Alex Ferguson's men went from staring down the barrel of a third successive defeat to winning every other league game that season, bar a 0-0 home draw against Arsenal.

The campaign took time to click into gear, though. A month into the season, champions United were 15th, seven points adrift of early pace-setters Chelsea.

Sir Alex's side soon found their stride and although the Reds were still seven points off the pace at the turn of the year – Liverpool now topping the pile – the league table was misleading.

After all, performances had improved markedly and the team's pre-Christmas excursion to the Far East to take part in the FIFA Club World Cup meant United had two games in hand.

There was the odd rout – big home wins against West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City – but it was United's professionalism rather than panache that steered us into a position from which to charge for the line.

Indeed, the record-equalling 18th title was arguably won by the defence.

The Reds kept 23 clean sheets in the league and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set a new British record when, after a 2-1 defeat at Arsenal in early November, he went 1,311 minutes without conceding.

By the time the big Dutchman did have to pick a ball out of his net again – at Newcastle in early March – United were flying high at the top of the league. And then one of the more forgettable days in recent history: a humiliating 4-1 home defeat against Liverpool shocked Old Trafford and let Rafa Benitez's side back into contention.

The following week, the gap narrowed to just a point when nine-man United lost at Fulham and Liverpool thumped Aston Villa 5-0.

All The Angles: Macheda's incredible debut goalVideo

No wonder the Liverpool fans felt momentum was on their side when they made the trip to Craven Cottage a fortnight later.

And while Yossi Benayoun's late goal sent the Merseysiders back to the summit, Macheda's stunner a day later would prove decisive.

From there, Sir Alex's men charged for the line convinced of one thing: they were going to win the league.

We ❤ a comeback against Spurs!Video

The Italian was on the scoresheet again a week later, with the winner at Sunderland, but it was the senior stars who were back on song in the following game – overturning a 0-2 half-time deficit to Tottenham with a five-goal blitz.

Three straight wins followed, against Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Wigan, and the championship was confirmed with a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford.

Champions again, three-in-a-row for a second time and all by pipping our greatest rival to the title – for a United fan, it didn't get much better.


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