United had all the pressure in the world after going into the crunch clash against Aston Villa on the back of two successive defeats and a Liverpool win. United needed a win to leapfrog the men from Anfield.
The 2007-08 title race was right in the balance as United took on Villa in early April. It was a must win match. Cristiano Ronaldo gave United the lead before Villa turned it around with goals from John Carew and Gaby Agbonlahor. Villa looked to hold on to the lead and throw the title race wide open.
Sir Alex threw the kitchen sink at the Villa defence after the second goal and introduced a certain Federico Macheda. The 17-year-old Italian, who scored a hat-trick for the reserves less than a week before. United pushed and probed but could not break down a resolute defence.
Ferguson and United needed a miracle from Cristiano Ronaldo. In a moment of sheer brilliance, Ronaldo found the bottom of the net after a low strike from the edge of the box. 2-2 and Villa’s mental fortress was breached. It was plays like this that saw Ronaldo become the Player of the Year. But the headlines were stolen by the 17 year old substitute. He already had a penalty appeal turned down and was involved in every United spark.
United’s pressure had bent Villa to the verge of breaking. United were battling with the clock to be fair. The 90th minute mark came and United needed another miracle. It was the Italian who provided it. With his back to goal, Macheda turned and hit a stunning goal that beat Brad Friedel and nestled into the corner of the goal.
Old Trafford lifted and the moment was reminiscent of Steve Bruce heading home back in 1993. Macheda’s goal deserved a similar celebration from the gaffer but it almost looked like Ferguson expected Macheda to pop up with the winner. United held on and took back their place at the top of the league.
It was a goal of epic proportions. It seemed to take the life from Liverpool’s title bid. They eventually finished four points behind United’s tally as the latter equaled the former’s mark of 18 League title. It was one of Ferguson’s dreams to take Liverpool’s place and he would have been proud to have finally reached No. 18.
Macheda’s goal has gone down in United folklore. Even with Ronaldo scoring a brace, it was Macheda who everyone talked about on the ride back home. Despite not fulfilling his incredible potential, United fans see Macheda as a cult hero. He etched his name into club history. The match itself is now regarded as a Premier League classic. It had twists, turns and everything else a classic has. It even had Fergie time.
United ended the season with the Premier League title and the EFL Cup. They finished runner-up to Barcelona in the Champions League Final in Rome.