After Wednesday night, we can safely say it is over. The fat lady has not only cleared her throat, she has cleared the room, vacated the building and headed off to Wembley to preside over the play offs.
Rafa Benitez may dream of a preposterous slip up, Arsenal fans may have fantasies of inserting an unlikely spanner in the works, the rest of the country may have visions of a comedy prat fall. But it won't happen.
Tomorrow at about two forty-five, Manchester United will be crowned Premier League champions, after convincing victory over a diminished and demoralised Gunners, with a couple of goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and one each from Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. Yes, it will be that easy.
This season Manchester United have shown no signs of reduction in their ruthlessness. Sure, when they were truly spanked at home by Liverpool, and then immediately defeated by Fulham, it looked for a moment as though they might falter. But that is when a true team shows itself. Since that stumble United have done anything but crack up. Largely because as a collective they don't do collapse. Against Aston Villa, Sunderland and now Wigan, when a point looked like the best they could hope for, United have insisted on seizing all three, right at the death. Their greed in accumulation knows no bounds.
Even as Wigan played out of their skin, everyone in the JJB on Wednesday knew it was coming, knew the red steam roller would eventually crush the life from its opposition. From that potential hazard conjured by Liverpool in early spring, they have simply grown stronger, with Rooney in particular now playing like the man he always promised to become as a boy. At times these past few weeks, Rooney could turn out against top teams on his own and still win. The fact that between them - Rooney, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and the rest - have never shown a hint of doubt is more than the mark of a team. It is the mark of champions.
And the bad news for everyone else in the division is that United's third Premier League title on the bounce is unlikely to be their last. Sure, Liverpool pushed them this season. But in the end everyone - including their manager - knows the Merseysiders are not as good as their old rivals, do not have the depth of squad, the experience, the power. They are a work in progress, who might come good, but not yet. And that's a fact.
Meanwhile, Chelsea are ageing too quickly and Arsenal not quickly enough. Compare Arsenal's youngsters to United's. While Arsenal's lavishly talented teenagers like Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are obliged to find their own way in an atmosphere of disappointment and under-achievement, United's Jonny Evans, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and the Da Silva twins are learning how to win, learning at the feet of masters. Put it this way; if you want to be a top-notch defender, who are you most likely to learn from playing alongside: Rio Ferdinand or Mikael Silvestre?
Such is United's continuity, even with a developing, growing, changing roll call of personnel, you could cheerfully put the mortgage on them doing it again in the certain knowledge that it is a bet more likely to accrue a profit than simply leaving the money in the bank. It doesn't really matter if next season they are led by Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema, it will be the same old story.
And, on the subject of bets: here's one I reckon worth a bob or two. Should United beat Barcelona in Rome in 10 days' time, it might be worth putting money on Sir Alex Ferguson finally retiring at the end of next season. Think about it: he has already pulled his team alongside Liverpool's record in the domestic championship, with another likely to follow. If he can match them in continental competition, and pick up the club's fifth European Cup next May in Madrid, then what is there left for him to do?
He will finally and unequivocally have achieved what he set out to do when he arrived at Old Trafford 23 years ago. He will have knocked Liverpool off their effing perch.
- Manchester United
- Wayne Rooney