Manchester United: Where Does 2012/13 Season Rank in Sir Alex's Career?
How does one define Manchester United's season?
The club is strolling to Premier League success without having gotten out of second gear, while promising FA Cup and Champions League campaigns ended prematurely.
The term bittersweet has never been more apt.
But at the time of writing there is a gloom hanging over Old Trafford.
Certain weaknesses in the team have been exposed by Chelsea and Manchester City in 0-1 and 1-2 defeats respectively.
With the possible exception of Michael Carrick, the Red Devils' midfield has looked devoid of quality and has struggled to control games against worthy opposition.
In a general sense, there has been talk of this current batch of top British teams being the worst in recent memory, with United the best of a bad bunch.
Speaking of the 2012/13 domestic season, Alan Shearer said "standard-wise this has been one of the worst I can remember." (per The Newcastle Blog)
Some have even felt the need to ask: "Is this Manchester United side one of the worst?"
Is such doom and gloom warranted?
In Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure in charge of the famous club, where does the 2012/13 vintage rank?
Strength in Depth
Many have cited Robin van Persie's decision to move to the red half of Manchester as a key moment that swung the title race in the Red Devils' favour.
But to suggest that United have been a one-man team is unfair.
This is effectively the same squad that came within seconds of claiming Premier League glory last term, and the one that won the big one the year before.
In February, Sir Alex even went as far to suggest that the side is stronger than the one which claimed the treble in 1999, though such a boast is perhaps far-fetched (via BBC).
The defence, though it leaked goals throughout the first few months of the season, is certainly as strong is it has been in at least a decade.
Stalwarts Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are two of the elite in their position, Jonny Evans is not far away from being good enough to be a regular starter, while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have the potential to be world class.
What needs to be said about the Red Devils' attack?
Though Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have less chemistry that Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, the two have combined for 31 EPL goals.
Javier Hernandez has delivered whenever called upon, and Danny Welbeck has improved his all-around game, if not his finishing.
It's the middle of the park that's been the problem.
Defying Expectations, For Better or Worse
It seems hard to believe that Manchester United have been so dominant in the Premier League considering the side's lack of quality in midfield.
None of the Red Devils' wingers have put in two decent performances in a row—together, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani have scored one EPL goal, and assisted only nine of 71 total.
Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley have been the premier central partnership, but even they have struggled to live with opponents who have put pressure on them high up the pitch.
Which is why Sir Alex Ferguson must ultimately be praised for United's successes this term.
If United win their remaining seven games, they will beat Chelsea's record points total of 95 in 2005.
Despite losing to Manchester City on Monday, there has only been one team in the chase for league glory since the new year.
There were some in the media who proposed that the Blues' triumph last year would signal a new era of dominance for Roberto Mancini's side, but United's character has been proven strong in adversity.
Chelsea, City, Liverpool and Arsenal were all beaten during the first half of the season as the Red Devils delivered in the big games in 2012.
But as expectations swelled and the knockout games came calling, things quickly fell apart.
The side's elimination from Europe can be ascribed to (bad) luck of the draw and poor officiating; their exit from the FA Cup was purely down to not being good enough.
Was it because expectations were too high? Or was a team capable of success found wanting when it mattered most?
I would tend to the former—hey, even I got wrapped up in "treble talk" a little over a month ago.
No team with such a lack of depth in midfield ever claimed Champions League glory. Perhaps we were all being a little delusional?
In Years to Come
Context is a valuable thing—when history reflects on Sir Alex's 2013 crop, it will be more positive than negative.
Memories of the team's painful exit from the Champions League will fade, but the domestic triumph will remain.
The Scotsman has done a tremendous job leading the side back to the summit of domestic football, even if his elusive search for more European silverware has fallen by the wayside.
No team that wins the Premier League should be harshly criticised.
Even if City, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been below par, the majority of the other clubs in Britain's top league have arguably improved in quality.
If there are to be criticisms, it will be in the type of football United have played.
Too often they have rested on their laurels and claimed victories by sheer grit and willpower alone.
Gone is the attractive, free-flowing football of the treble-winning team and the 2007/08 side, to be replaced with a group of players who know exactly the minimum it takes to claim three points from a match.
Should Sir Alex be chided for overseeing this revolution of unspectacular consistency, or praised simply for "getting our trophy back?"
So where does this season rank in terms of Sir Alex's greatest campaigns?
United have won the Premier League title on 12 occasions, missing out eight times. I would put the 2012/13 team and its successes and failures somewhere in the middle of the 21 total.
This batch of players is better than the team that lifted the trophy in 2011, but few others.
Hey, maybe we as fans of the Red Devils are too demanding, and should just be grateful to be back atop the heap of Britain's best clubs?
Even if that heap doesn't carry much weight in continental affairs.
How would you rate Manchester United's season? Can it be considered "vintage?"