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Premier League flashback - 2006-07 review: Manchester United return to the top

The Premier League is 20 years old and has enjoyed plenty of highlights. Here, Total Football continues its series looking back at some of the highs and lows.

After a drought of three seasons, Manchester United returned to the top and became champions of the Premier League for the ninth time, in 2006-07.

The Red Devils held off Chelsea, securing the title on the penultimate weekend, when the Blues failed to win at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal.

At the beginning of March, West Ham United looked doomed but inspired by Carlos Tevez; they fought back brilliantly to stay up, amidst huge controversy regarding transfer payments.

Sheffield United went down on the final day, after defeat to relegation rivals, Wigan Athletic. The Blades were joined in the Championship by Charlton Athletic and Watford.

CHAMPIONS: Manchester United

RUNNERS-UP: Chelsea

THIRD PLACE: Liverpool

RELEGATED: Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic, Watford

TOP SCORERS: Didier Drogba (Chelsea) 20, Benni McCarthy (Blackburn Rovers) 18, Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) 17, Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) 14, Yakubu (Middlesbrough) 14, Kevin Doyle (Reading) 13, Darren Bent (Charlton Athletic) 13, Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool) 12, Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham Hotspur) 12, Andy Johnson (Everton) 12, Marc Viduka (Middlesbrough) 12, Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 11, Robin Van Persie (Arsenal) 11

BIGGEST WIN: Reading 6-0 West Ham United (1 January 2007)

HIGHEST SCORING GAMES: Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn Rovers (23 December 2006), West Ham United 3-4 Tottenham Hotspur (4 March 2007), Blackburn Rovers 4-2 Manchester City (17 September 2006)

PFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

PFA YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

Chelsea’s two year domination of the Premier League crown came to an end in 2006-07, as Manchester United became champions once again.

United secured the league title at the beginning of May, with a 1-0 win at Eastlands against goal shy Manchester City.

24 hours later, Khalid Boulahrouz was sent off and Chelsea failed to beat Arsenal at the Emirates, meaning Jose Mourinho had to gracefully, give up the title.

Despite being back-to-back English champions, Roman Abramovich was desperate for European success and spent more cash, to bring in John Obi Mikel and for a staggering £30.8m - Andriy Shevchenko arrived at Stamford Bridge from AC Milan.

Michael Ballack also arrived in West London, whilst Eidur Gudjohnsen was sold to Barcelona for £8m and Damien Duff moved to Newcastle.

Ruud Van Nistlerooy exited Manchester United, moving to Real Madrid, with United bringing in English midfielder Michael Carrick from Tottenham Hotspur for £18.6m.

Arsenal released Sol Campbell and Robert Pires, whilst Dennis Bergkamp retired. Tomas Rosicky arrived at the Emirates from Borussia Dortmund and on transfer deadline day, William Gallas moved to North London, in a £5m swap deal that allowed Ashley Cole to finally switch to Chelsea.

Elsewhere, Liverpool paid Feyenoord £10m for Dirk Kuyt and also added Jermaine Pennant and Craig Bellamy to their ranks, Tottenham bought Dimitar Berbatov from Bayer Leverkusen, Jimmy Bullard swapped Wigan for Fulham and Everton splashed the cash on Joleon Lescott and Andy Johnson.

However, the biggest drama happened on transfer deadline day, when West Ham pulled off a coup to sign Argentine aces, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez on undisclosed fees from Corinthians. Little did everyone know at the time about the background to these signings.

Thumped by Thatcher

The first flashpoint came in the second set of matches, when Manchester City and Portsmouth played out a fiery 0-0 draw at Eastlands.

Pompey midfielder Pedro Mendes was violently elbowed in the face by City defender, Ben Thatcher. Thatcher was booked but banned by his club and faced an FA charge for violent conduct, whilst Mendes needed treatment in hospital for the vile challenge.

Manchester United finished the first month on top, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring his first competitive goal in three years, as the Red Devils won 3-0 at Charlton. They were the only side with maximum points after August.

Chelsea lost at their bogey ground of Middlesbrough, despite Shevchenko’s first goal for his new club but they were the only points they dropped in the first seven games.

Reading came into the top flight and made an exciting start against Boro on the opening day. They went 2-0 down at home but recovered superbly to win 3-2, with Leroy Lita poaching the winner.

Sheffield United returned to the top flight after a 12 year absence and did well to draw 1-1 with Liverpool in the first game of the new campaign, although they played out a 0-0 draw with Blackburn in September, which saw three penalties saved remarkably in the match.

Arsenal opened up their new Emirates Stadium but needed a late Gilberto equaliser to rescue a point at home to Aston Villa on the opening weekend, now managed by Martin O’Neill.

They followed this up with defeat at Manchester City to a Joey Barton penalty, then another 1-1 stalemate with Middlesbrough, to leave Arsene Wenger’s team with just two points from three matches.

Everton recorded their biggest Merseyside Derby victory for 42 years, when they beat Liverpool 3-0 at Goodison Park, helped by two goals from Johnson and charitable goalkeeping from Pepe Reina.

On ‘Grand Slam Sunday,’ an outstanding goal from Didier Drogba was the difference between Chelsea and Liverpool and Emmanuel Adebayor’s late winner, consigned Manchester United to a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Arsenal.

Cech fractured

Chelsea travelled to Reading on 14 October and finished the game, with John Terry in goal, after a stormy night.

No.1 goalkeeper Petr Cech was involved in a collision with Royals midfielder Stephen Hunt inside the first minute. Cech’s skull was fractured in the incident and he missed the next three months of the campaign.

In stoppage time, reserve goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini was knocked out in an accidental challenge with Ibrahima Sonko. The Italian was hospitalised too but released 24 hours later. For the record, an Ivar Ingimarsson OG helped the Blues to a 1-0 win.

Under O’Neill, Aston Villa made a decent start, staying unbeaten until the end of October, when they went down 3-1 at Liverpool.

Liverpool’s home form was excellent all campaign but dismal away travels early season, meant Rafa Benitez’s side failed to launch a serious title challenge.

The Reds lost at Bolton and surrendered meekly to both Manchester United (2-0) and Arsenal (3-0) and failed to score a goal in open play on their travels, until the first Saturday in December!

Foreign investment continued to sweep the league, with Randy Lerner succeeding Doug Ellis as Aston Villa chairman and Eggert Magnusson taking over at West Ham.

Once again, Bolton Wanderers were pulling above their weight, under the guidance of Sam Allardyce. Two goals from El-Hadji Diouf helped the Trotters to an excellent 2-1 away win at Newcastle, their first win at St. James’s Park in almost half a century.

The first manager to lose his job was Iain Dowie at Charlton Athletic. A 3-2 away defeat at Wigan in mid-November sealed his fate, after only 15 games in charge, with Les Reed taking over of the unstable Addicks.

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 20 years in charge of Manchester United with a 3-0 triumph at home to Portsmouth. Cristiano Ronaldo was beginning to show some inspired form that would make him into one of the best footballers in the world, for years to come.

Pardew axed

After their FA Cup final appearance the previous May and a top half finish, West Ham were struggling and languished in the relegation zone at Christmas.

A 4-0 defeat at Bolton, in which Gary Speed made his 500th Premier League appearance, spelt the end for Alan Pardew, as he was sacked by the new owner Magnusson.

Pardew would turn up at Charlton less than three weeks later. After a 5-1 battering at Tottenham and a 0-3 home defeat to Liverpool in one of the most one-sided games in Premier League history, Les Reed was sacked after just 41 days in charge at The Valley.

Former Charlton boss, Alan Curbishley took over at West Ham and inspired the Hammers to a shock 1-0 victory over Manchester United, with Nigel Reo-Coker scoring the only goal.

After that setback at Upton Park, the Red Devils bounced back to beat Aston Villa 3-0, with Paul Scholes scoring one of the best goals of his fantastic career.

With Ronaldo hitting top form, ending the year with both the PFA Players Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards, Ferguson’s side stretched out a six point advantage going into January.

Chelsea began to show signs of struggle. They needed a cracking Michael Essien equaliser to rescue a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal and late winners from Drogba and Arjen Robben, to edge five goal thrillers away at Everton and Wigan Athletic.

However, two home draws to Reading and Fulham in four days and with Terry injured far too frequently, Mourinho’s side started to look like a team that might end up as ex-champions.

In the Fulham game, defender Moritz Volz had the proud honour of scoring the Premier League’s 15,000th goal since its inauguration in 1992.

At the turn of the year, United led Chelsea by six points. Bolton held down a shock third spot, with Liverpool improving to fourth after just one defeat in nine. The bottom three were made up of Watford, West Ham and Charlton.

Grand slam weekend

The New Year started with Liverpool beating Bolton 3-0 and Steven Gerrard scoring a goal, a day after being made an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

Manchester United began 2007 with a 2-2 draw at Newcastle, pegged back by a first senior goal from teenage Canadian defender, David Edgar.

Chelsea got held to a goalless draw at Aston Villa, before easily dismissing Wigan 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Everything was set-up for ‘Grand Slam weekend’ between the league’s big four.

First up, Cech was welcomed back to the Chelsea first-team fold after his serious injury but a makeshift central defence of Essien and Paulo Ferreira stood no chance at Anfield.

Dirk Kuyt and a dipping Jermaine Pennant strike helped Liverpool to an impressive 2-0 victory over the Blues, with Benitez finally coming out on top against Mourinho in the Premier League.

24 hours later, Wayne Rooney put Manchester United ahead at the Emirates, before Robin Van Persie equalised, sustaining a broken foot in scoring the goal that ended his season prematurely.

A stoppage time header from Thierry Henry ensured a great double for the Gunners against their biggest rivals but exits from three cup competitions in a fortnight, plus a season-ending injury for Henry, meant their participation in the top three was over for another season.

Reading’s remarkable debut season in the Premier League continued, when they thumped sorry West Ham 6-0 on New Year’s Day.

Curbishley reacted by using the January transfer window to strengthen the squad. In came midfielder Nigel Quashie, defender Lucas Neill from Blackburn and Matthew Upson cost the club £6m from Birmingham City.

Other moves saw Mascherano join Liverpool on loan, Aston Villa pay Watford £9.65m for young talent Ashley Young, Stephen Warnock head for Blackburn Rovers and Fulham brought Clint Dempsey to these shores from the MLS.

Late drama for Red Devils

Manchester United began to show the sign of would-be champions and at one point, opened up a 12 point advantage over Chelsea, despite having played two games more.

On two successive Saturday lunchtimes, they secured last gasp victories at Fulham and Liverpool.

In both games, they were outplayed but held onto draws through a combination of missed chances from their opponents and luck.

Then, through Ronaldo at Craven Cottage and John O’Shea at Anfield, they pounced to turn two points into six and put themselves well into the driving seat.

Chelsea did keep the pressure up and produced their own late show to beat plucky Watford at Vicarage Road, with Salomon Kalou scoring a last minute goal, to defeat the Hornets 1-0.

Liverpool looked to have a bright future, when Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought the club in February for £220m. They made promises of success and a new stadium but ultimately, it would lead to long-term ruin for the Reds.

In the short-term for the Merseysiders, Peter Crouch had a mega day against Arsenal, scoring the perfect hat-trick in a 4-1 victory against Wenger’s troubled side.

At the bottom, West Ham’s plight continued, when they lost 1-0 at home to Watford, followed by a 4-0 mauling at rivals in distress, Charlton.

On 4 March, Tevez finally broke his duck for the Hammers and they led 3-2 with five minutes to go against Tottenham.

However, defensive instability cost them and strikes from Berbatov and an injury time winner on the counter attack from Paul Stalteri gave Spurs a 4-3 win. Eight points from safety, West Ham were all but relegated.

Breaking the rules

After the Tottenham defeat, West Ham was charged by the Premier League, for breaking third-party ownership regulations and fielding two ineligible players in Tevez and Mascherano.

Just at the right time, their form picked up with a controversial 2-1 away win at Blackburn Rovers, when Bobby Zamora’s winner could have been disallowed for a foul, an offside and the ball didn’t cross the line, as it was blocked by Tevez.

Off the back of that win at Ewood Park, they went on a run of seven wins in nine matches, which included a surprising 1-0 win at the Emirates, becoming the first team to win at Arsenal’s new ground.

Relegation rivals, such as Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic were incensed when the Premier League decided to hand out a record fine to West Ham, rather than a points deduction. This relegation battle could have been decided in the courts.

Another team in freefall were Fulham, who panicked and sacked Chris Coleman after an Easter Monday 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City. They had failed to win any of their last seven matches.

Lawrie Sanchez was appointed in a caretaker role and took the job permanently, after he kept the club up, helped by a 1-0 win over a second-string Liverpool on the penultimate weekend.

It was too late for Watford, who had been rooted to the bottom of the table for the majority of the campaign.

Despite rousing to beat Portsmouth 4-2, a 1-1 home draw with Manchester City meant an instant return to the Championship for Aidy Boothroyd’s side that lacked genuine quality at the top level.

Pardew had picked up some signs of form at Charlton but conceding a last minute goal to James McFadden of Everton on 15 April, crushed their spirit.

A 2-0 home defeat to Tottenham in Sky Sports final Monday Night Football match for three years, ended their seven year stay in the Premier League.

Champions and the drop

Although they lost 2-1 at Portsmouth, through a comical own goal from Rio Ferdinand and dropped silly points at home to Middlesbrough, Manchester United remained in pole position for the title.

They stormed back from 2-0 down at Goodison Park after 50 minutes to win 4-2 and at the same time, Chelsea threw away a lead to draw 2-2 at home to Bolton.

The following weekend, a Ronaldo penalty beat Manchester neighbours City and Gilberto’s penalty, coupled with a Boulahrouz red card had Chelsea behind at Arsenal.

Essien equalised for the West Londoners in the second half but it was too late, the title was heading back to Old Trafford and Manchester United, for the first time since 2003.

Sky Sports celebrated their 1,000 live FA Premier League match when Tottenham drew 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane. Strong form from Berbatov helped Martin Jol’s side back to fifth, having been as low at 11th in early February.

At the wrong end of the table, West Ham completed their great escape, with Tevez scoring the deciding goal, to ensure a last day victory at Old Trafford.

This meant, the loser of a head-to-head between Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic would be relegated at Bramwall Lane.

Paul Scharner gave the Lactics an early lead, before Jon Stead headed a brave equaliser. Then, Phil Jagielka’s handball gave Wigan a penalty.

Experienced defender David Unsworth, who started the season as a Sheffield United player, scored from 12 yards and the 2-1 win kept Wigan up and cruelly, sent the Blades down.

Paul Jewell resigned as Wigan boss 24 hours after that dramatic escape, whilst Glenn Roeder was relieved of his duties by Newcastle and Sam Allardyce quit as Bolton boss after eight years in charge, to be replaced by ex-Liverpool legend Sammy Lee.

The drama at the bottom was incredible in 2006-07 but it was Manchester United, who will remember this season more than anyone else.

By Simon Wright – Follow me on Twitter @Siwri88

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