Weary Manchester United seem to have spent all energy reclaiming the Premier League title

United have been knocked out of both the Champions League and FA Cup in recent weeks

Stamford Bridge

Merely the title will have to do for Manchester United this season. Another Double will have to wait.

They were knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea this afternoon, meaning that their season has only eight games left to run. Barring a unique catastrophe, they will have to content themselves with just the Premier League, their 20th title, and the reassertion of national and Manchester supremacy after last year's upheaval.

This, in a sense, is a disappointment. Four weeks ago, as United prepared to welcome Real Madrid back to Old Trafford in the Champions League, there was some hope of a second treble. The league has been close to over for some time and so both other prizes appeared attainable.

But Cuneyt Cakir sent off Luis Nani, United were dazed and then floored, and they have not been able to hold themselves in quite the same way since. Sir Alex Ferguson's domestic Double-winning sides, of 1994, 1996 and 1999 (and that which won the league and the European Cup in 2008), had a ferocious resilience, appetite and authority, as well as elite quality from back to front. All of these have been absent in the last few weeks.

Ferguson, though, seems to know this. His priority this season has been to regain the title, and to take the rest as a bonus. This was always going to be a demanding Easter weekend, with yesterday's game kicking off almost exactly 48 hours after their league match at Sunderland, but his intentions were clear. Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, who started at the Stadium of Light, were on the bench at Stamford Bridge.

The relentless focus is impressive, but United did look like a team whose energy had been spent elsewhere. The initial midfield pair of Michael Carrick and Phil Jones saw enough of the ball but they lacked the drive and dynamism which characterise Manchester United at their very best. Carrick has been an exceptional tempo-setter all year but yesterday United looked like a team winding down after an exhausting but rewarding workout.

This is harder to measure but United also looked like they did not quite believe they could push themselves much further. Last February they drew a league game here 3-3 despite being 3-0 down early in the second half. That was a classic United comeback but, even as they threw balls into the Chelsea box in the final minutes yesterday, this performance lacked that fervour which is so often rewarded.

United did make one good late chance, a volley for Van Persie which he flashed over the bar. But, with no goals in his last nine United appearances, he seems to have lost some of his autumn form, to the cost of the team which he leads.

And this is a United side which, for all their success, still lacks some charisma and authority in midfield. A player who would have stopped the collapse after Nani's red card against Madrid, or stopped the collapse against Chelsea which brought about yesterday's replay. Someone like Marouane Fellaini or PSV Eindhoven's Kevin Strootman, who might have prevented Juan Mata from angling that perfect pass to Demba Ba for the only goal.

In wide positions, too, there may not be quite enough quality. Nani is more involved now than he was but almost nothing came off for him yesterday and he does not look like a player Ferguson is planning to build around for years to come. Antonio Valencia, who started at right-back, before moving forward, looked like a player with the rudimentary ingredients of a good winger but not enough of spark or style. Wilfried Zaha is coming this summer, though, and he will provide more of both.

United, with Zaha and other additions, should be stronger next season. They should certainly be closer to a side who can win more than one trophy, because their young players, again, were promising yesterday.

Danny Welbeck, starting as a second striker before moving to the wing, was probably the best player in red. The vision and touch of his link-up play are excellent and not always fully credited. One ball round the corner to Tom Cleverley made one of United's best first-half openings. He is an excellent athlete too, and his burst down the right was too much for Ashley Cole, who injured his hamstring trying to catch up. Chris Smalling and David de Gea were very comfortable defensively and neither to blame for the goal.

There is potential in this United side, and in years to come they could win doubles and trebles too. For this year, though, just the one medal will have to suffice.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee