So the parade bus is booked, the engraving’s been done, the medals have already been dished out and the United 2012/13 team picture has been shot with the Premier League trophy in the middle, yeah? Well, no. It’d be easy to think the league title race is over, that it’s a forgone conclusion and title number 20 will be arriving at Old Trafford in a few weeks time. There’s talk of a guard of honour at Eastlands, a record points haul and even winning the title with a victory against City to REALLY rub it in.
Well allow me to err on the side of caution and be something of a party pooper for just one minute. I know United are in great form with nine wins out of our last ten league games. I’m also fully aware of how our bitter rivals have to travel to the Emirates this weekend against a side that’s won seven of their last eight games and as a Red of almost thirty years you don’t need to remind me of the experience we’ve got in these situations.
The only reason I’m not getting “title number 20” tattooed on my chest just yet-other than aversion to any form of physical pain- is we’ve been here before and it’s ended in tears, due to the same complacency that’s in danger of creeping in now.
Do I think United will win the league? Yes. Am I certain of this fact? No. First of all, there’s been a few warning signs in recent performances to at least make me realise we’re still capable of making this more difficult than it has to be and even worse than that. Against Blackburn we were fantastic in the last ten minutes, mainly due to the brilliance of Antonio Valencia but there was a lot of frustrating moments and I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan who just before the opening goal, was thinking “this is gonna be a draw.” The game at Old Trafford against Fulham was one -correct- refereeing decision away from being a draw. Yes, United always ‘grind out results’ but that doesn’t mean we always will in every game, after all sometimes lady luck and the occasional decision can be against you.
There’s also the memories of years gone by thinking the title was ‘ours’ only to see it bomb quicker than Soccer A.M. In 1995 a win against a West Ham side who’d only just avoided relegation would’ve been enough to see us lift our third Premier League title, yet we could only draw- despite the Scousers doing us a rare favour and beating Blackburn, only four years earlier a trip to relegated West Ham had all but ended our hopes of catching Leeds in the Division One title race.
In 1998, such was the confidence that United were destined to be champions after opening up an eleven point lead that one bookie even paid out on us. Fred Done will forever be synonymous with the over-confidence that can sometimes cloud even the shrewdest of judges.
It’s not just many years ago that United have fallen at the final hurdle, or lost a game that not one Red actually thought we could lose. Remember Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford in 2010? Who honestly thought we would get beat? I certainly didn’t just as i was sure we’d beat Blackburn the following week.
A lot of the confidence Reds have of the title being something of a matter of “when” rather than “if” stems from the belief that City will slip up and we won’t before we got to that all-important game at Eastlands. With only Wigan away and the rest of our fixtures at home against mid-table opposition at best, then why shouldn’t we win all our games? Well we SHOULD and we probably will as long as the complacency that some of the fans, pundits and even ex-players are showing doesn’t creep into the first team. I know I sound negative and believe me having lived in Manchester all my life bar a few years down South studying, I’m as excited about quietening the ‘noisy neighbours’ as anyone, I just don’t want complacency to replace confidence or arrogance to take the place of assurance in the United side.
Home games against the likes of Everton, QPR and Aston Villa may look like a piece of piss but don’t forget these clubs have a lot to play for. Villa are getting sucked into the relegation fight, QPR are already well and truly in it, while even a point for the Toffees could help them finish above Liverpool- so it’s not as though these games are meaningless for our opposition. Wigan is historically the easiest away fixture of the season, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy, as the pie-eaters are threatening to claw their way out of what seemed certain relegation.
Many experts predict City will drop points against Arsenal this Sunday, and while I’m inclined to agree I still don’t share the same faith in the Gunners many other Reds do, after all it depends on which Arsenal side turn up. The one that played Spurs in the first or second half at the Emirates.
City’s trip to Norwich is seen as another potential banana skin, but for a team with nothing to play for and who’ve lost four home games this season to take points off a side fighting a title race is a big ask. I realise City’s away form is far from great, but that doesn’t mean they can’t manage to take all three points of sides that are very beatable.
United can’t think the title race is over. Cos it ain’t. City know that if we go to Eastlands within touching distance and they beat us, which while abhorrent to any self-respecting United fan is within the realms of possibility, then its us with a trip to the Stadium of Light who have the tougher final game of the season, while they face a QPR side at home, who could be either relegated or safe by then and have little motivation away from home.
I realise this all sounds very negative and that there’s no reason to believe United should drop points before our trip to Eastlands, while there’s every chance City will at least draw a game before then, I’m only erring on the side of caution as I’ve seen some saddening twists in title races before and there may be one left this time round. United should win the league and almost certainly will, but it’s that ‘almost’ that the players need to remember and make sure they don’t join some fans in thinking we’ve already won something that is still some distance away.
Am I being overly worried? Will I be eating my cautious words by about six o’clock on Sunday or does anyone else share my apprehension? Feel free to comment, suggest and abuse below: