Manchester United eye up repeat of 1999

Typically effective, usually entertaining and always ruthless, Manchester United have encountered little resistance so far this season as they have built up a 12 point lead that looks decisive even though there are still 11 games to go. Last season they gave away an eight point lead with eight games remaining, but they are significantly better this year, and Manchester City much worse.

United have won 22 of 27 games, dropping just 13 points so far this season. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that they could finish the season with 100 points. Whatever happens, United will probably win their 20th Premier League title in style. Underpinning their success so far has been a fantastic squad rotation system. Ferguson is the master of rotation, rarely using the same eleven two games in a row, and as a result his team are usually fit and fresh for every challenge. With 20 or so players of top quality, United have players they can call upon who can step up to the same level as those they replace. That is what sets them apart from their rivals. It is the strength in depth. United do not necessarily have the best starting eleven in the league, but they certainly have the strongest squad.

With 64 goals so far this season, they have been ruthless in front of goal. Of course Robin van Persie has been vital and a crucial factor but then he has been ably assisted by a superb team around him. Wayne Rooney has sparkled in a more creative role with less pressure on his shoulders, and Javier Hernandez has been prolific when called upon. Tom Cleverley has been a calming and impressive figure in the centre of the pitch. United’s defensive deficiencies are covered up adequately, primarily by Rio Ferdinand’s calming influence and experience at the back, whilst Jonny Evans has proven a capable deputy for Nemanja Vidic, who continues to struggle for fitness.

With Chelsea coming up in the FA Cup and a Champions League clash with Real Madrid next week, there is a defining period for United’s season. Will it be a very good one, or a great one? If they can negotiate the games with Chelsea and Madrid, then United will be in a fantastic position to battle for the treble. The Premier League seems guaranteed, the FA Cup is far from won but they are favourites, but the Champions League is the one there are doubts about. Are United good enough, a year after going out in the group stage? At times they haven’t convinced in Europe, but their draw in the Bernabeu two weeks ago showed that United may just have figured out the formula to this season’s competition. Bayern Munich, Madrid and Barcelona are obvious contenders, as are Borussia Dortmund and Juventus too probably. United can be as well, but the Madrid game is critical.

If they are still in three competitions in a month’s time, then United could just repeat the glories of 1999. They have the squad and the variety required to do that. With four goalscoring forwards there are echoes of that team that achieved history 14 years ago. Could this be Ferguson’s greatest ever season? And if it is, could it also be his last?