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

Saturday 16 May 2020 11:00

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.

On this day: Macheda's debut delight Video

On this day: Macheda's debut delight

It's exactly 12 years since Kiko Macheda netted this dramatic winner against Villa on his first United outing...

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

We ❤ a comeback against Spurs!

In a season of stunning United turnarounds, this one at Spurs' expense on 25 April 2009 was up there with the best...

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.