Ever since the inception of the Premier League, various sides have come and gone as dominant leaders during different periods. One side who dominated a lot of these periods was Manchester United.
Throughout the 90s, the Premier League pretty much belonged to United. While in the early-mid noughties, an unusual dip had caused a passing of the torch to Arsenal and Chelsea.
At the turn of the decade, however, United’s dominance was undeniable. Three consecutive league titles, Community Shields, Champions League trophies, the lot.
During this period, especially in the 2007/08 season, the Red Devils were simply one of the best teams in the world. Oh, how times have changed.
But how did Fergie lead his men to such glory? Let’s take a look.
United set out most league games in the traditional system of 4-4-2. Edwin van der Saar occupied the space between the sticks while Patrice Evra, Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic, and Rio Ferdinand completed the back-line.
This back five conceded a ludicrously low total of 22 goals throughout the whole season, as well keeping a whopping 21 clean sheets across 38 games.
A major theme for Fergie’s tactics during this season is his trust in his players’ individual ability. With the defenders, their main responsibilities were to read the game, make interceptions and release the ball as quickly as possible on the counter.
The midfield was made up of a partnership of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick. Carrick, similar to the latter days of his United career, simply sat in front of the back four.
Meanwhile, Scholesy played a pivotal role in United’s counter-attack, linking play from the defence to the forwards with his incisive passing.
United’s flanks were made up of a pairing of Cristiano Ronaldo and either Ryan Giggs or Luis Nani. On defence, the midfield and defence formed two compact back lines stretched widely across the pitch.
When attacking, the wingers would bomb forward to join the strikers, where Fergie would then again rely on his players’ individual quality to do the business.
Completing the United side was the striking duo of Carlos Tevez (lest we forget) and Wayne Rooney. Both players did not rack up their highest goalscoring tally for a season during this campaign, but their work as playmakers proved just as important.
Rooney racked up 18 goals across all competitions, while Tevez narrowly edged him out with 19.
However, Rooney showed a glimpse of the playmaking role he would fill later on in his career, tallying seven assists, the most of any United player.
Sir Alex set his side out to be more patient off the ball. Rarely would his defenders press their opposition. Instead, they waited for them to make mistakes or show glimpses of instability, before exploiting them via a devastating counter.
United’s Star Man: Cristiano Ronaldo
The form Cristiano Ronaldo was in during this season was absurd. 42 goals across all competitions meant he tallied 48% of all of United’s goals on his own.
Prior to the previous season, Ronaldo was the first non-striker to be United’s top goalscorer since 1995. A remarkable talent, one that I doubt we’ll see again at Old Trafford in a long, long time.
Cristiano redefined what it meant to be a winger in the Premier League. United had plenty of players who could provide goals, so having a player who could finish so well from out-wide was an incredible asset to have.
Combining with his team-mates up-front created one of the deadliest attacking lines for United in recent memory. Tevez, Rooney, and Ronaldo tallied 70% of all United goals in the Premier League and 41% of all assists.
This success only supports the argument of allowing a team’s brightest talents more freedom on the ball. Instead, many United players in the modern era have been shackled by their gaffer’s orders – an all too familiar sight, especially under Jose Mourinho.
A Pivotal Moment: UCL Final vs Chelsea
This victory was a sweet one for United fans. Chelsea’s Abrahmovic takeover spurred a new generation of footballing success driven by finance.
From 2004-2006, Chelsea was the team to beat, which made 2008’s Champions League Final in Moscow even more mouth-watering.
United topped their group, making it to the knockout stages undefeated. There, they brushed aside Lyon, Roma, and even Barcelona on their way to the final.
Fergie’s men continued their calm and collected style of playing the ball from the defence. The side dominated 58% of possession and absorbed an onslaught of pressure from Chelsea who made 24 shots at goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a header in the 26th minute. But that lead was short-lived as Frank Lampard equalised for Chelsea on the stroke of half-time.
After another 30 minutes of extra time, it all came down to penalties. Bizarrely, Cristiano missed his. Thankfully, a certain famous slip courtesy of John Terry saw the ball soar over the crossbar, securing a United win.
The rest – as they say – is history. This was a landmark moment for United. Not only had they asserted themselves as the best team in England, but perhaps the world.
For millennial Manchester United fans, this period in the club’s history will be remembered as the last time they truly conquered world football.
Some may argue the 1999 treble-winning side was stronger, others may believe the best is it yet to come.
What’s undeniable, though, is how well Fergie set his players out tactically. Granted, the calibre of players at his disposal was more than enough. But making a squad of players click as well as this one did is no easy feat.
The 2007-2009 Manchester United side will go down as one of the league’s greatest. Some fans may be criticised for being overly-nostalgic and too reliant on past success, but when your club’s past was this successful who can blame them?