top-of-the-table rigours. “We’re in a good position,” says Rio. “We’ve been here before and have the experience and nerve to know what it takes to win it.”
The injury-enforced fluidity of United’s selections in defence this term has mercifully eased in recent weeks, allowing a familiarity to build between the backline and their goalkeeper, David De Gea. The Spaniard’s strong mentality helped him withstand the forensic scrutiny of his first few months in English football, and his recent spell of sterling form augurs well for the coming months. He is relishing the challenge of commanding his senior cohorts.
“To order men like Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand around is not easy for a rookie like me,” says De Gea. “But they are very professional and tell me the goalkeeper is the owner of the area and accept what I say.”
After a whirlwind spell of upheaval in the first half of the season, harmony has broken out in a crucial area of the United set-up – and at a vital time.
If you’re looking for experience and know-how, you’ll find it in United’s engine room. Serial silverware collectors Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick have amassed 26 league medals between them and, more than ever this term, have shown their knack for stepping up when all appears lost.
Take last month’s at-the-death win at Norwich: Giggs snatched an invaluable victory by despatching Ashley Young’s cross, but prior to the move’s denouement, it was Scholes and Carrick who were patiently playing the ball from side-to-side, probing and waiting for the right moment. The latter – a comparative pup at just 30 – has been involved in sprints for the line in each of his previous five seasons with the Reds, and he knows that now is no time to be getting carried away.
“We are satisfied with the situation we are in,” says Carrick. “But just because we have come through a tough two months doesn’t mean we will sail through the next two. We are not getting carried away or taking anything for granted. We know how quickly it can come back and bite us.”