Others were not good enough
Because of a relatively poor away record, United's final points total will be the lowest to win the title for many seasons and below the 85 or 86 points that runners-up normally achieve. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City will finish nowhere near that and should all be kicking themselves for failing to take advantage in an unexpectedly open contest. For United to have reached the New Year having won only one away game and still been top of the table was an indictment of their supposed challengers, who for widely acknowledged reasons all fell badly short.
Old Trafford was a fortress
The failure to win away would have undermined any title challenge were it not for a superb home record – West Bromwich Albion are the only team to leave Old Trafford with a draw so far. As in the past, some critical wins came late, emphasising the manager's claim that this team would never give up.
Ferguson kept his appetite
David Meek, the veteran journalist who assists with Sir Alex Ferguson's programme notes, recently described how he is told to be at the club's Carrington training centre at 7.30am and sometimes believes he has arrived earlier than the manager – only to discover the latter has already been in the gym for half an hour. It is unthinkable that nine years ago Ferguson was preparing to retire, until his family talked him out of it. Enthusiastic and passionate as ever – witness a recent five-match ban from the touchline, which had no adverse effect – he appears to have been rejuvenated by the task of freshening up his squad without relaxing the pursuit of trophies.
Young guns rose to challenge
Finally stepping out of Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow, Nani flourished with a whole host of assists and some valuable goals. The young Brazilian full-backs Rafael da Silva and, more recently, his brother Fabio added attacking vim to growing defensive awareness. Chris Smalling grew up quickly when deputising for Rio Ferdinand. But above all, Javier Hernandez, expected to undergo a season of learning, proved himself a young master. Playing second fiddle to Dimitar Berbatov in the first half of the season, he outscored him from then on and formed an ideal partnership with Wayne Rooney; one the latter clearly preferred.
Golden oldie's new lease of life
Gary Neville may have reluctantly given up the good fight and Paul Scholes often struggled but Ryan Giggs went on and on, revitalised by his role in central midfield and even turning in a 45-minute cameo at left-back away to West Ham. Used more defensively, his goalscoring suffered but he still maintained his record of at least one goal in each of the past 19 seasons.
Rooney dramas never becamea crisis
Rooney's complaint that United were not showing sufficient determination to match his own ambitions has been made to look rather foolish, even though he is now the beneficiary of a new five-year contract. There were those who would have liked the club to take a firmer line when his transfer request was made public in October but Ferguson was not inclined to cut off his nose to spite his face. On New Year's Day, Rooney began scoring again and continued doing so, the highlight being a hat-trick at West Ham last month. The subsequent two-match ban for swearing at a television camera merely earned him a rest before the Champions' League games with Chelsea.
Juggling the competitions
Runs to the semi-final of the FA Cup and final of the Champions' League might have taken their toll. But Ferguson has more experience than anyone in knowing when he can get away with holding players back for a tougher assignment. Only rarely, as in a 4-0 League Cup defeat at West Ham, did he miscalculate. The luck of the draw was on United's side too. In the FA Cup the only away tie was at League One Southampton, where a side showing eight changes were losing until Giggs and Nani were sent on. In Europe, the draw brought Marseille and Schalke, and the only adverse knock-on effect seen all season came in the disappointing Cup semi-final loss to Manchester City, four days after the second Chelsea game.