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United are champions of England for a record-equalling 18th time!

The reinvention of Ryan
When he finally hangs up his boots, Ryan Giggs will be remembered as one of the best left wingers to ever play the game. But this term he’s been inspirational in the centre of midfield, where his cool head and ability to pick the perfect pass has done untold damage to opposition defences. His form wasn’t lost on his fellow professionals, either: in May he was voted the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

That boy Macheda
Every 17-year old dreams of scoring an injury-time winner on his debut in front of the Stretford End, but Federico Macheda actually did it. With time slipping away against Aston Villa, the Italian took one exquisite touch before curling an unstoppable shot past Brad Friedel and into the far corner. Cue pandemonium in the stands as the teenager became an instant hero. And as if that wasn’t enough, six days later he came off the bench again to score the winner at Sunderland. Magnifico!

He comes from Serbia
Hotly tipped to win United’s Player of the Season award, Nemanja Vidic has been outstanding this term. He was the only constant feature of the Reds’ back four during the record-breaking clean-sheet run and also chipped in with valuable goals at the other end (remember Sunderland at home in the last minute?). Of course, he’ll want to forget Liverpool’s opening goal at Old Trafford, but that mistake merely proved he’s human after all...

Keeping it clean
You don’t win football matches if the opposition score more goals, so the best platform you can give yourself is to keep a clean sheet. The Reds did just that in 14 consecutive league games between 8 November and 18 February, setting a new English record in the process. In fact, by the time Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz poked the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak at OT, the Reds had gone 1334 minutes without conceding a league goal. The word “watertight” springs to mind.

Home rule
When Liverpool stop to take stock of where it all went wrong they’ll inevitably point to the number of points dropped at Anfield (12 already this season). But while Rafa’s men were drawing at home to the likes of Stoke City and Fulham, United’s only Old Trafford wobbles came against Newcastle (1-1), Liverpool (1-4) and Arsenal (0-0, although it was all the Reds needed to secure the trophy) .

A day to forget
Most Reds would prefer to erase this fixture from their minds but there’s no denying the role it played in United’s title charge. Losing 4-1 at home to your biggest rivals is never enjoyable, but at least it brought everyone back down to earth at a time when some fans and members of the press were starting to think an 18th title was a mere formality. A timely reminder that you can’t take anything for granted in football.

Sharing it around
All successful teams contain at least one forward who bangs in goals for fun. For the Reds, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have hit the back of the net more than most, but they’re just two of 15 United players to get on the scoresheet in league games this season. It’s a terrifying thought if you’re an opposition defender... and the perfect riposte to those critics at the beginning of the season who claimed the Reds relied too heavily on Ronaldo’s goals.

That winning feeling
Far from disrupt the Reds’ momentum, act as a distraction or tire players out, the trip to Japan in December for the FIFA Club World Cup simply energised United and made the players hungrier for more success. The returning world champions won 19 of the next 20 fixtures after touching down back in England, beginning with a gritty 1-0 win over Stoke City on Boxing Day.

The fab four
On more than one occasion this season Sir Alex has admitted to "selection headaches” when it comes to his forward line. Managers around the country often spend Friday afternoons sweating over the fitness or form of their star striker, but Sir Alex has the “luxury” of deciding who to leave out. Carlos Tevez offers industry and energy, Dimitar Berbatov sublime control and the ability to bring others into the game. Wayne Rooney feeds others as well as he finds the net himself, while Cristiano Ronaldo has proved he’s just as effective up front as he is on the wing. Of course, sometimes not even Sir Alex can choose and plays all four at once! Well, can you blame him?

Ronny’s rockets
Let’s be honest: Ronaldo was never going to eclipse last season’s incredible tally of 31 league goals. But 18 so far isn’t too shabby, is it? In fact, it’s better than anyone else in the Barclays Premier League! We’ve seen some scorchers, too. Remember his two free-kicks against Stoke? How about the one against Blackburn from wide on the left? And don’t forget the headed third (or the shirt-off celebration) against Spurs to complete an incredible turnaround at Old Trafford in April. And to think some outsiders still question his status as one of the world’s best...

Size does matter
How must Sunderland’s players have felt in April when they saw (among others) Ronaldo, Tevez, Evra and Giggs sitting on the bench? The array of talent at Sir Alex’s disposal is frightening, but it’s also absolutely vital in a season that will see the Reds play an energy-sapping 66 competitive matches. That’s 26 more than some other top-flight clubs (and, it’s worth mentioning, 11 more than Liverpool)! Of course, it means not everyone can play all the time... and helps explain why United have used 31 different players in the league this term.

Young stars
Okay, so we’ve already shown Alan Hansen and the rest of the football world that you can actually win things with kids, but that’s no reason to gloss over the contribution from United’s youngsters this term. Jonny Evans and Rafael da Silva, in particular, regularly slotted into the Reds’ back four and, more often than not, looked like seasoned pros. Both were nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck both scored screamers on their league debuts, while Richard Eckersley, Rodrigo Possebon, Darron Gibson and Zoran Tosic were all given a taste of football on the big stage.

Leaving it late
It wouldn’t be United without late drama, would it? Late winners are woven into the fabric of the club and the 2008/09 season has been no different. The Reds have scored more league goals after the 75th minute than in any other 15-minute period, with five arriving in the 90th minute or later. Three of those – Berbatov v Bolton, Vidic v Sunderland, Macheda v Villa – turned draws into wins (or, put another way, earned United six additional points).

The 12th man
The Reds’ travelling support is widely regarded as the best in the country and even Wayne Rooney admits he wishes he could sample the experience (“It looks mad!”). But at Old Trafford this season, too, United supporters often raised the roof to roar the Reds to victory. Against Villa and Tottenham in April the crowd became a 12th man, just as they had when every Chelsea touch in January was met with intimidating jeers and whistles. But perhaps the best testimonial for United’s unwavering support came at half-time when the Reds were trailing to Spurs: “We came off at half-time 2-0 down,” Patrice Evra recalls, “and we were clapped off the pitch. That’s unbelievable.”

Comeback kings
How many times have you heard commentators claim: “United never know when they’re beaten”? It’s true, though. When the going gets tough, the Reds invariably pull something out of the hat. In the league this season, United have gone behind on six occasions. In half of those games, the Reds went on to claim all three points (never more dramatically than coming from 2-0 down to thump Spurs 5-2). It was only in games away to Arsenal and Fulham that the Reds failed to secure at least a draw after conceding first.

Unsung heroes
You don’t have to be make headlines to make an impact. Ronaldo and Rooney may dominate the back pages but the Reds wouldn’t have lifted the trophy without contributions from the likes of John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park. O’Shea, especially, proved his worth this season with a string of top-class performances. Whether asked to play right back, left back or even at centre-half, the Irishman got on with the job and consistently produced the goods.

The old heads
When the heat is on, it helps if you’ve got people on your side who have been there before. In Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, the Reds have three men who boast 28 league-winners’ medals. And while they don’t play week-in, week-out anymore, Gary (Stoke), Ryan (Chelsea) and Paul (Fulham) all put in man-of-the-match performances this term on the way to the Reds’ latest title triumph.

The Boss
You’d think you’d get bored of the same job after 22 years, wouldn’t you? Not Sir Alex. In charge at Old Trafford since 1986, the boss is as hungry as ever for success. His tactical nous hasn’t diminished either. In January, Sir Alex surprised everyone by playing Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher in the centre of midfield against Chelsea. It turned out to be a masterstroke, as was the way he blooded young talent, rotated his central midfielders and managed his substitutions throughout the season.

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