There is no doubt that the game against Leicester City on Sunday is the biggest game of the season and one that could shape how the next few years pan out for Manchester United. Anything but a loss would result in Champions League football and, hopefully, a foray into the transfer market to bolster the squad. A loss could result in some of our better players wanting to leave and limited funds being made available to improve on what we have left. As Solksjaer’s men prepare for their final day of the season showdown with the Foxes, we take a trip down memory lane to look at how the Reds have fared in other crunch games on the last day of a Premier League season.
One of the most iconic seasons in Premier League history culminated in a final day where United headed to Middlesbrough needing a win to secure their third title in four years. Four months earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men trailed Newcastle by 12 points and the premier league trophy look destined for St James’ Park. Fortunately for United, Newcastle imploded, Kevin Keegan lost his head and the Reds took full advantage.
United swept Middlesbrough aside on the final day of the season, with goals from David May, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt securing a 3-0 win and the title. A week later, Eric Cantona volleyed home in extra time in the FA Cup final to give United their second double in three years. Many United fans consider this to be the greatest of all United teams.
The greatest season in Manchester United’s history, and the most successful season that any English club has ever had. However, we only accumulated 79 points in the league, so apparently it doesn’t actually count. United and Arsenal, who won the double a season earlier, were nip and tuck for the whole season and it came as no surprise when the premier league season went right down to the wire. United played host to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford while Arsenal faced Aston Villa at Highbury.Embed from Getty Images
Approaching half time, it all looked a bit bleak for Sir Alex Ferguson and his team. Tottenham were leading 1-0 thanks to a Les Ferdinand goal and Ian Walker was inspired in the Spurs goal. However, two goals either side of half time from David Beckham and Andy Cole turned the game on its head and gave United the first part of their treble. It was also surprisingly the first time that United had won the Premier League title in a game played at Old Trafford.
After wrestling the title away from Jose Mourinho and Chelsea a year earlier, United were looking for back to back league wins for the first time in seven seasons. Yes, we were spoilt. Mourinho was sacked as Chelsea boss in September 2017 after a sluggish start to the season with Avram Grant taking over. The loss of Mourinho didn’t hinder Chelsea as much as many people thought and the Blues kept pace with United for the entire season, entering the final weekend level on points with the Reds. Luckily, our front three of Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo had ensured our goal difference was vastly superior, giving us the edge as we travelled to Wigan on a rainy May afternoon.
A Ronaldo penalty gave United the lead after half an hour before Ryan Giggs secured all three points and United’s 17th league title in the 80th minute. As it turned out, Chelsea drew at home with Bolton Wanderers meaning that a point at the JJB Stadium would have been enough. United lifted the trophy in front of the 5000 travelling Reds (and the countless others who had bought tickets in the home sections of the stadium) before heading to Moscow ten days later to win our third European Cup.
A year prior to the aforementioned Newcastle collapse and the subsequent double, United went into the final day of the season in 1995 in a similar position; a league title up for grabs and a cup final to look forward to. However, on this occasion, United had to rely on other results if they were to lift the premier league trophy. Blackburn Rovers led the Reds by two points at the start of the day but with an inferior goal difference, meaning that they needed to win at Anfield of all places to guarantee the title. Nobody in Manchester expected Liverpool to do United any favours, especially as Kenny Dalglish was the Blackburn Rovers manager at the time.
As it happened, Liverpool DID beat Blackburn thanks to goals from John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp meaning that a United win at Upton Park would have been enough. Unfortunately, Andy Cole had a day to forget, squandering chance after chance as United succumbed to a 1-1 draw in East London. The following week, the Reds lost 1-0 to Everton in the cup final to round off a great week in Merseyside and a harrowing one in Manchester. The fact that United bounced back and won the double a year later is great testament to the character and mentality of this squad.
After the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez in the summer of 2009, the burden was well and truly on Wayne Rooney’s shoulders to deliver the goals if United were to have any chance of winning their fourth Premier League title in succession. To say he delivered the goods would be an understatement as he fired in 26 league goals in 32 appearances, and if it wasn’t for an ankle injury suffered in Munich in March 2010, we almost certainly would have won the league. As it happened, Rooney was unfit for the crunch tie with Chelsea in April and we fell to a 2-1 defeat.
However, we still had a glimmer of hope going into the final weekend but were relying on Wigan Athletic to go to Stamford Bridge and win or hold Chelsea to a draw. It didn’t take long for that glimmer of hope to fade away as Chelsea ran riot, beating Wigan 8-0. The Reds still completed their job in a professional manner, beating Stoke City 4-0 at Old Trafford, however we would have to wait another year before getting our hands on the Premier League trophy once again.
It’s the hope that kills you. Going into the final day of the 2011/2012 season United trailed City by goal difference after giving up our eight point lead in just four games. After that collapse, we didn’t deserve to win the league, and many were expecting City to just brush aside a terrible QPR side on the final day of the season in a similar way to how Chelsea had dealt with Wigan two years earlier. However, QPR actually turned up and found themselves 2-1 up going into stoppage time. The Reds were 1-0 up at the Stadium of Light and it looked like City had blown it in typical fashion.Embed from Getty Images
We all know what happened next, and whether you blame QPR for giving up as soon as they got the message that they were safe regardless of the result or not, it’s irrelevant – City won the league and we didn’t. The following season, Sir Alex’s final one in charge, Robin van Persie led a ruthless United to their 20th and most recent league title.
Although all of our final day exploits in years gone by have all revolved around the Premier League title, it still feels like Sunday’s top four decider is of huge importance. Coming fourth is not something that Manchester United should be happy with but it’s a situation that we find ourselves in and hopefully if we do come out on top on then it will lead to more days like wee had in 1996, 1999 and 2008.