Red Devils reign supreme
Denying Chelsea a third successive Premiership crown was always going to be a tall order. If cruising to 2005/06 glory was not enough to inject fear into their rivals, then the Blues' huge pre-season outlay, which accounted for the arrivals of Khalid Boulahrouz, Ashley Cole, John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou and Andriy Shevchenko, would surely have sent shivers down the spines of their would-be challengers.
By mid-November, the battle for domestic football's biggest
prize had already abridged into a two-horse race, with Liverpool
and Arsenal unable to keep pace with the defending champions and
Manchester United, whose spending had paled in comparison to
Chelsea's. But undeterred, the Red Devils made a statement of
intent on their curtain raiser, sweeping aside Fulham 5-1, and this
served merely as a teaser for an incredible campaign; one which
culminated in Alex Ferguson's side clinching their 16th English
top tier title with two matches to spare.
It was a triumph that owed much to a rich combination of youth and experience. At the senior end of the Manchester United squad, 30-somethings Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs both excelled, as did youngsters Wayne Rooney and, in particular, Cristiano Ronaldo, while at the back, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic formed a largely impregnable boulder.
But more important than individual heroics was the United players' collective ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In late February, for example, they came from behind to snatch all three points at the death against Fulham, and trailed Blackburn Rovers at home with 30 minutes remaining on 31 March before finishing up 4-1 winners.
However, the performance that best embodied their never-say-die spirit came against Everton four weeks later. Trailing 2-0 at Goodison Park, United scored four times in the final half-hour to claim a remarkable and ultimately significant 4-2 win. Crucially, Chelsea, who had kicked off their 35th game of the campaign simultaneously and had been leading Bolton Wanderers at half-time, were held to a home draw by the Trotters, which resulted in Manchester United opening up a five-point gap over the Jose Mourinho's side. By the time the following round of matches had ended, the trophy was on its way north.
For their part, Chelsea will point to the loss to injury of influential duo Petr Cech and John Terry, whose respective absences coincided with costly dips in form for the Stamford Bridge outfit.
Promoted Watford found life among the elite testing from the onset, and after briefly threatening to escape a plunge into the Championship, Charlton Athletic finally succumbed to demotion after their penultimate fixture.
The fight to join the pair in slipping through the relegation trapdoor went down to the wire, with all three candidates masters of their own destiny. Ultimately, West Ham United preserved their top flight status by winning at Manchester United, while Wigan Athletic, third-bottom going into their clash at Bramall Lane, edged out Sheffield United to send the Blades down on goal difference.
Tottenham Hotspur booked another continental adventure by finishing fifth, with Everton and Bolton Wanderers joining them in next season's UEFA Cup. Yet, had newly-promoted Reading bettered their final day 3-3 draw at Blackburn Rovers, they would have crowned an incredible debut season in the English upper tier with a ticket to Europe.
The loss of the legendary George Best had weighed heavily on Manchester United during season 2005/06, but this campaign saw an heir apparent emerge as Old Trafford's new entertainer supreme. Possessing an insatiable appetite for the ball and the capacity to concoct magic with it at his feet, Cristiano Ronaldo proved the scourge of countless Premiership defenders, finishing as the competition's third-top scorer on 17 goals and weighing in with a bundle of assists.
If Didier Drogba's class flickered during his first year in England, then it shone unremittingly during his second. The Ivorian pocketed the division's Golden Boot, while another prolific import, Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, netted a stunning collection of strikes to propel Tottenham back into the UEFA Cup. Elsewhere, the infallible Steven Gerrard led Liverpool to a third-place finish, and Cesc Fabregas' guile and craft helped Arsenal grab the fourth and final spot in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Since the turn of the year, though, Carlos Tevez stood head and shoulders above the rest of the capital clubs' stars. Bracketing relentless drive, breathtaking skills and an admirable end product to terrorise opponents, the Argentine inspired West Ham United to seven wins from their last nine outings to complete a seemingly impossible escape from relegation.