Following the 6-1 humiliation at Old Trafford, a shock exit from the Champions League and defeats to Newcastle, Blackburn and Wigan, there were five players central in turning Manchester United’s season around:
5) Michael Carrick
He still remains one of the unsung heroes of Ferguson’s squad but that never seemed to bother him on the pitch. The fact that he has played just under 1600 consecutive minutes of Premier League football this season highlights the faith Ferguson has in the 30-year-old. That run includes 19 league fixtures in which Carrick holds a passing accuracy averaging 90 per cent. Calm and composed at the heart of the midfield, Carrick plays simple passes and keeps things ticking over. After United lost Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher to injuries, Carrick provided stability in United’s midfield which has been vital in the Red Devils’ title run-in.
4) Paul Scholes
After United’s early exit from the Champions League, those demanding Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric began voicing their concerns. Ferguson stunned them all when Paul Scholes was named as a substitute in the FA Cup tie against Manchester City. Critics dubbed the move as an act of desperation from Ferguson. The connotations of a lack of finance and academy talents did little to dissuade his detractors. Not that it bothered Scholes as he proved his class on the pitch. The former England international brought much needed creativity in the United midfield as well as experience. He orchestrated United’s midfield – rarely losing possession yet always available to make a pass. There was a sense of positive force working around Old Trafford that made them more determined than ever in toppling City from the top spot.
3) Wayne Rooney
A team’s talisman is often judged by how they respond to adversity and Wayne Rooney could not have done more. United have moved five points clear of City with four matches to go largely on the back of Rooney’s terrific form. The former Everton striker has found the back of the net 24 times this season. In truth however Rooney’s contribution is far more than mere goals and assists. His work ethic often sees him drop back whenever the situation demands. Coupled with his clever movement and link-up play, Rooney has been a central figure for United as they looked to secure the Premier League title once again.
2) David De Gea
Nothing highlighted David De Gea’s transformation than his performance at Ewood Park recently. Of course credit must also be given to Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans – their partnership flourishing in front of the 21-year-old but it’s De Gea’s metamorphosis from a timorous, shaky goalkeeper to a confident custodian that proved to be the turning point for the defending champions. Among the goalkeepers with at least 10 Premier League appearances this season, De Gea has the best saves-to-shots ratio at 79%. A solid goalkeeper often lays the foundation for success and De Gea has done exactly that for United.
1) Antonio Valencia
Arguably the most ruthless attacking player at the back end of the season, Antonio Valenica has become a potent weapon for Sir Alex Ferguson. Since his return to full fitness, the Ecuadorian has run riot down down the right flank with his pace, movement, strength and accurate crossing. Despite playing only 20 league games, Valencia (along with David Silva) leads the Premier League in assists with twelve. Valencia has also netted 4 times, including an stunner at Ewood Park that gave United three priceless points. The former Wigan man has been pivotal in the ten point-swing at the top of the table which appears to be enough to guide the Red Devils to a record 20th league title.