“Manchester United have reached the promised land.” The line Clive Tyldesley famously delivered during his commentary on the historic night Manchester United clinched the Champions League and completed the treble. It is a night that will remain in the hearts of United fans, and in my opinion was one of the most memorable moments in sporting history.
Moments such as that, Liverpool’s magnificent comeback against Milan, and Chelsea’s penalty shootout triumph last season to claim Europe’s biggest prize are what football is all about. Everyone longs for instances like these in sport, and the passion and euphoria they provide.
Patrice Evra has been vocal in praising the current crop at Manchester United, likening them to that of the 1998/99 season treble winning side and believes they have what it takes to deliver another of these moments by repeating the epic feat of 14 years ago.
While Sir Alex Ferguson will be confident he has the squad to be able to manage the busy schedule of games, maintaining a challenge on several fronts is a task that is becoming more and more difficult. I am not so sure they, or in fact any of the other Premier League sides had they been in a position to, currently have what it takes to pull off the magic Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League trio.
For starters, in my opinion the current squad isn’t as strong as that of 99′. Peter Schmeichel was a world class goalkeeper at the top of his game, the back four had the ever consistent Gary Neville and Denis Irwin, and the towering presence of Jaap Stam, while Giggs, Keane, Scholes, and Beckham were formidable in the midfield, with the dynamic duo of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole up front.
Albeit some of those first choice starters were actually missing for the Champions League final itself due to injury and suspension, but they had an experienced squad with players such as Ronny Johnson, Nicky Butt, and Teddy Sheringham.
Experience is vital when it comes to the business end of the season and winning the major honours. Luckily and extraordinarily for the current United squad, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still around to help guide the younger players, but there is only so much they can do for them once it comes to producing the goods in pressure situations.
The Red Devils are still alive in the three competitions that they were in their treble winning campaign, currently leading the Premier League by five points. I believe the league has become more competitive and difficult to win in the current day and age. Whether that’s down to the top teams dropping in standard or the less a team’s improving is up for debate, but overall more teams seem capable of beating each other.
If United are to continue to get further in the Champions League and FA Cup then they are unlikely to have the luxury of having the title wrapped up early and will possibly face similar circumstances to those of 99′. Manchester City are out of Europe, like Arsenal were, and will have full focus on retaining their title. After it looked like they were fading from the race, they have put themselves right back in contention with a strong run of form.
In the Champions League, despite qualifying for the knockout stages with two games to spare this season, United were far from convincing and will vastly have to step up their game when they entertain former club hero Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates in the last 16.
As polished and consistent a players as Tom Cleverley and in particular Michael Carrick are in the Premier League, whether they have the ability to go and control a game against the top sides in the latter stages of the Champions League is another question. We have seen the United midfield overrun by the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in seasons gone by, and even against Atletic Bilbao in the Europa league last year and that’s where I feel may be United’s biggest problem.
Obviously the defence is an issue and the lack of a commanding goalkeeper, but I feel if the midfield still had a Roy Keane in his prime for example, and Scholes dictating games then it would help cover some of the cracks in the backline. United have looked stronger defensively since the return of captain Nemanja Vidic, and it is vitally important they continue to improve in this aspect.
The area of the team they will be most confident about is the forward options at their disposal. With players like Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney who can produce a moment of magic out of nothing, you always stand a chance. What Van Persie in particular has given them, is a truly world class performer who produces consistently and in the big games as well. Something I feel the squad have been lacking since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
While I don’t believe the class of 2013 is strong enough to repeat the treble, stranger things have happened and it is a case of so far so good for Ferguson’s men.