Year in review 2012: Manchester United – So close yet so far, but Dutch courage of van Persie leads comeback

By Paddy von Behr & Pippa Field

Robin van Persie, a Fergie statue and the Premier League title slipping narrowly through their fingers – 2012 has been an eventful year for Manchester United.


January was a mixed month to kick off 2012 for Manchester United.

Despite winning three out of four Premier league fixtures and beating Manchester City in the FA Cup, they crashed out in the fourth round to old enemy Liverpool.

A second successive league loss – a 3-0 away defeat to Newcastle United – made for an unsatisfactory start to 2012 but they bounced back four days later beating City, with Paul Scholes returning from retirement.

The midfielder then scored on his return to Old Trafford as the side beat Bolton before securing victory over Arsenal in the league.

After the FA Cup exit disappointment, the Reds finished January strongly, beating Stoke 2-0 with an understrength side and drawing level on points with City at the top of the table.

As usually happens, Sir Alex Ferguson chose not to use the January transfer window to strengthen his side, although the goalkeeper position remained a problem with David de Gea coming in for criticism for his performances.

Played 6: Won 4, Lost 2


United got their title aspirations back on track, going unbeaten during February in the league, and also progressed through to the last 16 of the Europa League.

A stirring comeback from 3-0 down to draw at Chelsea – which also included an impressive performance from under fire De Gea – built the momentum for a home victory over rivals Liverpool.

Despite the result giving them top spot in the league, the match was overshadowed by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez refusing to shake hands with United’s Patrice Evra.

It was the first meeting of the sides since the October match where Suarez was found guilty for racially abusing the United defender, and contributed to an ill-tempered game.

At the end of the month, Ryan Giggs marked his 900th United appearance by scoring a late winner against Norwich, but with City having won their game in hand, the Reds dropped back to second.

Making their bow in the Europa League mid-February after being knocked out of the Champions League before Christmas, United knocked out Ajax 3-2 on aggregate, despite losing the second leg 2-1.

Played 5: Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost 1


March saw United open up a three point gap at the top of the league, but also brought an end to their Europa League campaign as they crashed out to Athletic Bilbao in the last 16.

Unbeaten in the league throughout the month, victories over Tottenham Hotspur, West Brom, Wolves, and Fulham saw United score 11 goals and conceding just one.

It was also manager Ferguson’s 986th league match in charge, the Scotsman surpassing a record set by Sir Matt Busby.

Wayne Rooney’s double against West Brom – just two goals of the seven he scored in March – helped the Reds reclaim top spot in the Premier League on March 11 for the first time since early October.

But despite sitting in pole position with eight games to go in the league, the Reds suffered two losses to Athletic Bilbao in Europe – ending a ten-year run of reaching at least one cup final per season.

Played 6: Won, Lost 2


With the season heading into the crucial run in, three league victories put United in a promising position, before slipping up against Everton and in the Manchester derby.

Successive 2-0 wins over Blackburn and QPR allowed United to open up an eight point lead at the top of the table by April 8.

But a below par performance and 1-0 loss against Wigan allowed rivals Manchester City to gain ground a week later.

Despite re-establishing a five-point lead thanks to a comprehensive 4-0 over Aston Villa, the Reds then let a 4-2 lead slip at home against Everton to leave the title race wide open.

With just three games left to play, and United only three points clear, the Manchester derby at the end of the month would prove crucial in the destination of the Premier League trophy.

But despite the high stakes, an uninspiring United performance contributed to City securing a 1-0 home victory and moving ahead of the Reds on goal difference in the table.

Played 6: Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost 2


May saw only two games but despite winning both, victory for City on the final day of the season meant United missed out on winning on a record 20th Premier League title.

Heading into their game with Swansea City, the Reds were aware they needed to score goals in order to reduce the eight goal deficit they had to rivals City.

But despite first half goals from Ashley Young and Scholes – his fourth league goal since returning from retirement making it his most prolific campaign since 2006/07 – the Reds Devils were unable to score more.

With City and United level heading into the final game, the Reds knew they had to win at all costs if they wanted a chance of winning the title.

Rooney’s 34th league goal of the season – his best return since moving to United – handed the side victory over Sunderland, only for City to strike twice in injury time against QPR and clinch the title.

The result was all the more difficult, given United had effectively won the title for 14 seconds following the final whistle at the Stadium of Light before Sergio Aguero scored at the death.

Although of little consolation to the red half of Manchester, United’s 89 points total was the highest for any runners-up in 20 seasons of the Premier League.

In other news, striker 32-year-old Michael Owen left the club after not having his contract extended after three years with the club.

Played 2: Won 2


With the Premier League season over, eight of United’s first team represented the club at the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, taking place from June 8 and July 1.

Half of that number was made up of four English players – Danny Welbeck and Rooney scoring a goal each as England progressed to the quarter-finals.

Defender Phil Jones will have been disappointed not to have played a role at the tournament despite being in the squad, while Young was one of the English players to miss a penalty in their shoot-out loss to Italy.

Goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard did not feature for Denmark at the tournament, while winger Nani helped his Portuguese side to the semi-finals, before losing to eventual winners Spain.

Despite playing the full 90 minutes in their opening game against England, France defender Evra did not feature in his side’s other two group games or their quarter-final loss to Spain.

Meanwhile back in Manchester, the club was busy announcing the signing of Borussia Dortmund and Japanese play-maker Shinji Kagawa, who was then awarded the number 26 shirt.


United kicked off the new campaign with the usual jet-setting, including pre-season trips to South Africa and China.

Ferguson’s side beat AmaZulu, before sharing the spoils with Ajax Cape Town and setting off for the Far East to overcome Didier Drogba’s Shanghai Shenhua 1-0.

Having already secured the signatures of midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, United were widely rumoured to be in the market for Brazilian international Lucas Moura.

With interest from Chelsea and Inter Milan, competition for the then 19-year-old was rife, but Paris Saint Germain won the race, picking him up for a cool £36.5million.

Played 3: Won 2, Drawn 1


The Reds finished off their pre-season preparations, before starting the Premier League campaign on the wrong foot, suffering opening-day defeat at Everton.

Robin van Persie had completed his £24million move from Arsenal just three days earlier and came off the bench to make his United debut at Goodison Park.

The Dutchman opened his account for the club the following Saturday, in United’s 3-2 win over Fulham, with his first shot on goal in a United shirt.

As the transfer deadline loomed on the horizon, Ferguson became increasingly linked with a move for Everton left-back Leighton Baines.

However, this speculation came to an end when the signing of Alexander Buttner, who joined on a five-year deal, was announced on the 21st.

Played 5: Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 2


With van Persie now in full swing at Old Trafford, United recorded five wins from five in September and almost completed a flawless month until Tottenham visited.

Spurs snatched a dramatic 3-2 win to inflict United’s second defeat of the season and end their 23 year wait for a victory at Old Trafford.

Paul Scholes marked his 700th appearance for the club with a goal in United’s 4-0 home win against Wigan and Buttner opened the scoring with a debut goal.

A week later United visited Anfield, shortly after the independent Hillsborough panel published its findings, casting doubt over the original inquest ruling.

Ferguson wrote a letter to all United supporters attending the game, asking them to ensure the rivalry did not cross into “personal hatred.”

Both sets of fans paid tribute to the 96 victims, while Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez put last season’s ‘Handshakegate’ behind them by observing the pre-match pleasantries.

Wayne Rooney returned to action three days later to face Newcastle in the Capital One Cup, following a month out with a gash in his leg.

Played 6: Won 5, Lost 1


October was almost a carbon copy of September results-wise, as the Reds came close to recording a spotless month, until Chelsea put them out of the Capital One Cup.

The month included a convincing 3-0 win at Newcastle and a dramatic 3-2 triumph at Stamford Bridge, where United were spectators to controversy.

Chelsea accused referee Mark Clattenburg of using inappropriate language towards Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel – he was later cleared of all charges.

Three days later, Ferguson’s side faced Chelsea again, losing 5-4 after extra time in the Capital One Cup fourth round, and witnessing even more controversy.

A Chelsea fan was pictured aiming monkey gestures at United striker Danny Welbeck – the pictures flew around twitter and Gavin Kirkham, 28, was arrested.

But the month ended on a positive note, as Ferguson was named Premier League Manager of the Month for an incredible 27th time – Arsene Wenger is next best with 12.

Played 6: Won 5, Lost 1


A busy November saw United secure Champions League qualification with victory against Braga, as well as wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa, QPR and West Ham.

Van Persie netted to help sink his former club, Arsenal, and complete the record of scoring against every current Premier League club – only Yakubu beat him to the feat.

A Champions League trip to Turkey made the headlines for the wrong reasons – Galatasaray fans received United at the airport with reminders of their infamous ‘Welcome to Hell’ greeting in 1993.

On the 23rd a host of club legends including Eric Cantona, Ruud van Niselrooy, Peter Schmeichel and Dwight Yorke were at Old Trafford to witness a special event.

A bronze statue of United’s manager was unveiled on the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, before Cantona retired to the Bishop’s Blaze to drink with the fans.

And the month concluded in relief more than anything, when an unusually leaky United defence ended an 11-game run without a clean sheet, beating West Ham 1-0 at Old Trafford.

Played 7: Won 5, Lost 2


The Reds’ dramatic season continued into December, when their trip to Reading’s Madejski Stadium produced seven goals in the first 35 minutes.

The match finished 4-3 to the visitors, as the lethal pairing of Rooney and van Persie once again hauled United out of a tricky situation, with three goals between them.

And they extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with an emotionally-charged last-gasp derby win at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Van Persie was once again the hero as he struck the decisive blow late on from a direct free kick to secure a 3-2 win.

However, unpleasant scenes after the game marred the occasion, when a supporter struck Rio Ferdinand with a coin and another had to be forced off the pitch by City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

The incidents raised the topic of netting in British football grounds, but the idea has been met with backlash from a number of people, including Ferguson.

The Reds go into the Christmas period on top of the Premier League and in the last 16 of the Champions League – a promising end to a turbulent year.

Played 4: Won 3, Lost 1

Image courtesy of BBc, via Youtube, with thanks.

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