"Nothing is easy for the Reds these days." At 99.9% of football clubs, a six-match winning streak would be a cause for celebration but this line, in the Manchester Evening News' report on their 2-1 win against Newcastle United FC in the English League Cup on Wednesday night, underlines that Manchester United FC are no ordinary club. Winning alone is not enough, it seems, for a club who have become what the Americans would call the "winningest" in English football under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Five of United's six victories have been narrow ones. There was the feeling among reporters in the mixed zone after last week's opening Group H success over Galatasaray AŞ, that their performance had echoes of last season's disappointing European efforts, lacking the swagger and authority so often seen from Sir Alex's teams in the past.
Four days later, the manager himself had to concede that his side were "poor" in their 2-1 win at rivals Liverpool FC, who, even with ten men, were extremely unfortunate to lose to Robin van Persie's late penalty.
One oft-heard argument is that United lack the driving presence in midfield of a player like Roy Keane, the man whose performance in the 1999 UEFA Champions League semi-final triumph at Juventus – despite knowing a booking had just cost him a final appearance – was described by his manager as "the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field".
Replacing somebody like Keane is not easy and ditto Paul Scholes – so irreplaceable, in fact, that he came out of retirement in January to resume his United career.
Yet looking at United's midfield, there were positive signs against Newcastle with the promising Tom Cleverley scoring his first United goal and Darren Fletcher starting (and completing) his first match since taking a break from football last November because of a career-threatening illness.
That was good news for Sir Alex, and Wayne Rooney's return from injury was another boost for the Scot. The United manager asserted in Wednesday night's programme notes that with Rooney, Van Persie, Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck, he now has an attacking quartet "as good as, if not better, than anything in the country".
Yes, United may not be at their best yet and the loss of Nemanja Vidić for two months is a worry they could do without, but these are problems 99.9% of managers would love to have. If United can win matches at a moment when "nothing is easy", their rivals should fear the prospect of them really finding their stride.
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