Craig looks at the not-at-all-award-winning group that brought the title back to Old Trafford.
There is no doubt that Manchester United’s squad depth was a major factor in them reclaiming the Premiership title.
Jose Mourinho may argue otherwise, but Manchester United had just as many injuries as Chelsea this season. The key to Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s success has been that he showed faith in his fringe players while Mourinho was constantly moaning about all his injuries and making his back-up and youth players feel unwanted, choosing to throw his “Untouchables” out of position than rely on the untested . Fergie’s second choice men certainly repaid that faith by doing the business on the pitch.
While Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney quite rightly grabbed the headlines, it would be a pity if the contribution of the likes of Oâ€™Shea, Fletcher, Solskjaer and Smith were overlooked. These guys might not really do anything fancy, but they were the ones who kept things ticking over when it looked like injuries might derail the title challenge.
Oâ€™Shea had been a figure of fun in many circles at the start of the season and was generally considered not good enough for a club of Unitedâ€™s stature, however the Irishman has come of age this year and his versatility has proved to be very important. He has played right across the back four, central midfield and even kept a clean sheet playing in goals against Spurs for a few minutes. And as Sky Sports usefully pointed out, he had the highest percentage of his shots ending up in goals â€“ scoring 4 times with only 5 shots. The most important goal was the late winner against Liverpool which essentially won his team the league.
Solskjaer and Smith came into the team at a time when the club was struggling for strikers and the decision to sell Van Nistelrooy in the summer was being questioned. Solskjaer made a large contribution with 7 league goals, and his calming influence and experience helped the younger players like Ronaldo and Rooney. Alan Smithâ€™s return from injury came just as Henrik Larssonâ€™s loan spell finished, and was necessary because Saha and Solskjaer were both injured. Although he didnâ€™t score in the league, his determination and battling qualities help United to win games they probably should have drawn near the end of the season.
Fletcher has done the most this year to win over his critics, last year many Man Utd fans claimed he was only playing because he was Scottish, but this season he has shown why Ferguson has such faith in his ability. Having watched him playing many times for Scotland, and seeing him run the midfield in so many international games including the wins over Holland and France, it was obvious he could do it at the top level, but many of his performances for Man Utd last season were below par. This year however, he has played with confidence, and his ability to put in a shift as a box-to-box midfielder has meant he has played most Championsâ€™ League games where United have played a 5-man midfield. His performance against Roma at Old Trafford showed exactly what he is capable of, and I think more of the same is to come over the next few years.
Without the contributions of those 4 players, not to mention others such as Park Ji-Sung, Gabriel Heinze and Wes Brown, Manchester United would not have been Champions this year.
Chelsea’s imminent signing of Steve Sidwell from Reading suggests that Jose is looking to add some reliable, if not spectacular, performers to his squad and suggests that the key to next yearâ€™s title may not be who the big teams sign, but rather which fringe players they have.