It's been a very busy year for Sir Alex Ferguson, and though Manchester United will finish the year on a high, there has been a plethora of lows for the club in 2012.

When United surrendered the Premier League title to neighbours City last May, it was perhaps a defining moment not just for the year, but for the club's entire generation of young and developing stars.

From Europa League failings to big summer purchases, contract rebels and the renewal and creation of bitter rivalries, there's never a dull moment for Manchester United, and 2012 was no exception. IBTimes UK looks back at the crucial moments of 2012 for Ferguson's men.

1. The aftermath of Suarez v Evra

As the clock struck midnight on New Years' Eve to usher in 2012, the champagne may have been flowing for many, but down at FA headquarters administrators were furiously putting together a document explaining exactly why they were banning Luis Suarez for eight games and fining the striker for racially abusing Patrice Evra.

The topic remains controversial for many football fans 12 months on, and after Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand in the first match between the two clubs after being found guilty, tensions boiled over as Evra celebrated a win for United over their most bitter Premier League rivals. The episode remains one of the ugliest in Premier League history.

Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra
Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra started the year with animosity

2. Paul Scholes' return

When Manchester United were preparing to take on City in the FA Cup on 8 January, Paul Scholes was seen around the dressing room as so many times before. But this time, as he got out his football boots and began lacing them up, the midfield legend shocked even his team-mates as he prepared for a sensational comeback. Since his remarkable return, Scholes has once again become a central cog in United's midfield, and the 38-year-old was a contender for the 2011-12 Premier League player of the season, despite not making his first appearance until the new year.

His return has been nothing short of brilliant, and the culmination of another successful chapter for the fans' favourite.

3. Loss of the youngsters

It was a running saga that frustrated Sir Alex Ferguson from the outset: what to do with Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba. Both were promising youngsters for United, the former believed to be a future creative fulcrum and the latter often compared to Patrick Vieira.

While United were ultimately happier to let go of Morrison, who was well known for being troubled off the pitch, their failure to hang on to Pogba left Ferguson with a particularly bad taste in his mouth after the Frenchman moved to Juventus. The Scot went so far as to claim that Pogba hadn't told the club he was leaving.

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba is now happy at Juventus, but the playmaker's departure left a bad taste in Ferguson's mouth

4. Europa League flop

It is the one trophy Ferguson hasn't won in his 26 years in charge at United, but like most big English clubs, the manager didn't seem too concerned over the side's opportunity to challenge for Europa League honours as he licked his wounds from their Champions League failure.

After beating Ajax 3-2 on aggregate in the Round of 32, the side went on to lose to Athletic Bilbao in the final 16. Though they were publicly disappointed to be missing out on European glory, in private it's more likely that they were pleased they could concentrate on beating City in the league. Unfortunately, they failed to do that, too.

5. That draw with Everton

United were five points ahead of City in the race for the league title at the start of the day on 22 April, and many have pinpointed this match as the turning point for the side as they lost a 4-2 lead to draw 4-4 with the Toffees. This put City within a game of catching United, and thanks largely to the prolific form of City's strikers, victory in the derby would give them top spot on goal difference.

United may have lost to Wigan and City either side of the Everton game, but the surrender of that two-goal lead epitomised the defensive failings which ultimately cost them. The title may be won over a season, but moments like this are enough to break a team and it did just that to the Red Devils.

6. Title loss to Manchester City

Victory in the 2011/12 season came down to just five minutes for United and City, with the former facing Sunderland and the latter playing QPR. Though Rangers went down to 10 men thanks to Joey Barton's brain explosion at the Etihad, the unthinkable almost happened as they went up 2-1 with just extra time to play out.

United's squad waited with baited breath, but Eden Dzeko and Sergio Aguero proved to be their undoing, scoring in stoppage time to bring City their first title in 44 years. It was a moment that the United squad would reflect on many times over the summer; was the draw with Everton the crucial factor? Or their losses to City in the league, particularly the 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford, which on its own accounted for City's superior goal difference? The side's resolve to bounce back was typical of United's mentality, and a successful summer transfer window has seen them reassert their supremacy as 2012 draws to a close.

Manchester City
Manchester City's title win has spurred the United squad on

7. The Robin van Persie purchase

After losing the title in the dying minutes of the season, Ferguson hit back with a decision that could prove to be the ultimate revenge over Roberto Mancini. The manager made a shock move to buy Robin van Persie, who had long been a Manchester City target, as he stalled contract talks at Arsenal, and though Arsene Wenger had hoped to send the striker abroad, United's offer of around £24m proved too tempting for the Gunners. Since his move to the north-west, van Persie has maintained his brilliant form of last season, and his 12 goals so far, including the winner against City this season, have gone a long way to helping his side secure top spot.

8. Darren Fletcher's return

When Darren Fletcher pulled out of the United squad with a chronic bowel ailment last Christmas, there was a good chance that the midfielder would never again take to the pitch for the club. Some argued that he should not return to action, while Ferguson said he would find a position for Fletcher in the dressing room to keep the stalwart at the club beyond his playing days. But on 15 August, the 28-year-old took to the pitch in a friendly against Aberdeen, giving United fans hope that he would play an important role in the side once more.

9. Hillsborough moment

While United were at odds with Liverpool at the beginning of the year, the sides were united in September, standing behind the Hillsborough victims as an independent panel completely exonerated Liverpool fans for their part in the disaster. The build-up to the match between Liverpool and United, the Merseysiders' first home match since the publication of the report, was understandably tense. But as Sir Bobby Charlton presented flowers to Ian Rush, the sides were united over something that was much bigger and more important than any football match.

10. Rafa Benitez's return to the Premier League

Benitez's press conference in 2009, where he told what he believed were truths of a conspiracy by Ferguson, will go down in history as one of the most explosive managerial conflicts in the history of the Premier League. His return to management for Chelsea has reignited that rivalry once more, and for any fan it's bound to be exciting when the two come face to face again - if Benitez is still managing the Blues when they play United on 4 May 2013.

Ferguson has already rekindled the feud by claiming the Spaniard was 'lucky' to be coming in to a team full of ready-made winners.

Rafa Benitez
The return of Rafa Benitez will no doubt cause conflicts with Ferguson.

11. Ferguson honoured with a statue

In his 26th year in charge of United, Ferguson was once again honoured for his achievements at Old Trafford; after the North Stand was named after him last year, this time a statue of the manager was unveiled on the concourse.

Ferguson's wife was also honoured in the plaque, and as she opened the curtains which shrouded it, the manager and his directors both talked about how privileged they felt to work with one another. The timing was particularly interesting as it came while Chelsea were looking for an eighth manager in as many years, showing what a force Ferguson has been in English football.

12. City 2 United 3

As United faced City for the first time since the pain of losing the title last season, it all looked to be going Ferguson's way as they went into half-time 2-0 up. While the opposition were able to take the scoreline to 2-2 in the 86th minute, the Manchester United we all know so well grabbed the winner from a late van Persie free kick. It put United six points ahead in the title race, and gave them more reason to celebrate the success of the year over Christmas.

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