The toughest period for any team vying for the top prize in English football are the months of February and March.
This period is when teams struggle to retain their form, egos explode inside the dressing rooms, and titles are seemingly lost and won by teams that falter and those who remain resilient, respectively.
Unfortunately, Manchester United have suffered a great setback as one of their talismen in Antonio Valencia got injured during the Europa League game against Ajax Amsterdam.
Valencia was on the field only for a short period of time when he pulled a hamstring and was substituted soon thereafter. News is that Valencia will be sidelined for at least four weeks.
What does this mean for Manchester United? Is the loss of Antonio Valencia as big as a loss, as say losing Wayne Rooney?
In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes.
The injury couldn't have come at a more significant time as this. Finally when Manchester City were struggling and Liverpool showed how ineffective Tottenham Hotspur can be rendered at times, this injury might debilitate United in their title hunt.
Antonio Valencia is perhaps the best right winger in the Premier League currently. Not only that he can also deputize at right-back when there arises the need, especially given the host of injury problems that United have accumulated.
In several of the matches, Valencia has been the key player through which the attack is channeled.
His marauding runs coupled with his splendid crossing ability and through balls have often been the added strength that United have needed in testing periods.
He has been a constant threat from the right flank. The number of key passes he makes in a game are phenomenal. In 13 appearances in the Premier League, Valencia has provided an overwhelming number of nine assists and has also scored a couple of goals.
For example against Arsenal at the Emirates, Valencia was simply superb, taking part in both the goals. He scored one and assisted the other.
Although both Nani and Ashley Young are coming back, these two players can be inconsistent at times, and Valencia, along with Rooney, has been the only consistent person for the United team.
The most concerning fixture is indeed the game at Tottenham on March 4th. Although one game cannot decide everything, this might very well do so.
All three of the top teams, City, United and Spurs, are not separated by much, and it is significant that United get a positive result. Spurs have been flying high all season, and without Valencia, United's attack would be less effective.
For example in last week's game, Valencia was such a constant threat that even Jose Enrique could not venture forward at all. This allowed space for Rafael to be an added offensive threat as well.
Sadly, this will not be the case with Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Sir Alex Ferguson has already remarked what a critical blow this is:
It's a really big blow. Antonio's been a fantastic player for us this season. But when somebody gets injured or loses form at this club the manager can always call upon another player to perform.
Let us hope that Nani and Young show some fine form and get the team through this tough period of time.