Alex Ferguson always talks about hitting the stride around late February, pulling into March, April and May in full force. You can drop point earlier on, but it’s important to be at your best in the months that matter. Manchester United, beating WBA 2-0 and climbing to the top of the Premier League at the expense of Manchester City, are doing exactly that.
Again, like in the past two seasons, the style isn’t exactly scintillating. But it doesn’t really matter when the points can’t stop coming. Since their defeats against Blackburn and Newcastle on the turn of the new year, United haven’t lost in the league. They’ve lost to Liverpool in the FA Cup and a couple of times in Europe (Ajax, Bilbao) but have won seven of their eight next matches, including beating Liverpool, Arsenal and a draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
City during that same time? Six wins in eight matches, losing to Everton and Swansea. Not a collapse by any measure, but at this stage, with the two teams an arm and a leg above the rest in the Premier League in terms of consistency and execution, it’s not the time for mistakes. United have a comfortable fixture list up until their visit to Eastlands on April 30. They might drop points, but it wouldn’t be crazy to gamble on them winning at least 18 points from their next seven matches, four of them at home.
City’s road is tougher, with matches against Chelsea (home) and Arsenal (away) still on their ‘To Do’ list. Mancini, in love with rotations up front, is already contemplating bringing back Tevez after vowing never to play him. Panic is in the air, if you ask me.
For United it’s been the usual patching job Ferguson weaves, magically, each spring. Injuries pile up, or simply individual bad form seems to infect the entire team, but nothing really changes. David De Gea seems confident for the first time with a steady duo (Ferdinand and Evans) in front of him. Antonio Valencia gone down? Ashley Young has done wonderfully since returning to the lineup. Paul Scholes came out of retirement and looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Wayne Rooney, quietly, has reached 20 goals this season.
For much of the season, it felt like United don’t have enough quality, especially in the middle of the pitch, to catch up with Manchester City. Alex Ferguson proved again that his voodoo and spirit, seeping through him and into his players every match, upgrading players who won’t be starting for other, lesser clubs, just by his presence. His words of “titles are won in March and April, not December” couldn’t be truer than this year.