Here are some of the headlines from English papers in the buildup to Manchester United's weekend game against Newcastle:
"Why a win for Newcastle will see the storm clouds gather over Old Trafford" - Terry Butcher in the Mirror
However, the same papers waxed lyrical about United's performance in the 3-0 win against the Tyneside team. By consensus, it was the best Manchester United performance of the season, with columnists referring extensively to the improved performance of the defence and the sterling job done by the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley. Some even went so far as to suggest that there is no crisis at United and that it was all a figment of overactive imaginations.
What does it say about the media hype?
What the changeable attitude in the media reflects is an obsession with Manchester United, correlated with the knowledge that anything associated with the team sells like hot cakes. With a claimed fanbase of 659 million, people are hungry for any news coming out of the Old Trafford club. So, any little piece of information (or even disinformation) about the club gets blown out of proportion by the media's hype machinery.
In addition, there is also the not-so-little fact of Manchester United being the most successful English team ever. The last 25 years of the Alex Ferguson era has seen the team win 12 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups and four League Cups. The United manager has generated a winning mentality and a winning culture at the club that seems to self-perpetuate.
At the same time, it also leaves the club open to observers who look for little chinks in their armor to determine if the veneer of invincibility is starting to wear thin. It is also an added bonus that stories of challengers (read Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal or any other English club) deposing the Old Trafford club make for eminently interesting drama, leading to greater sales or viewership figures for the outlets doing such stories.
Which trophies will Manchester United win this season?
So what is a fan supposed to do?
With so many views and opinions out there, it becomes a difficult exercise for true United fans to sift through all the misinformation to understand the true state of the club they support. Even then, questions remain about the club's prospects: With nearly 20 percent of the season gone, is the club really in crisis? Does Manchester United have any chance of winning silverware this season? Is the club's midfield really as hopeless as the media has made it out to be? Is Ferguson losing his touch?
To be honest, there are no definite answers to these questions. As a fan, one can take solace in cold facts and statistics. Right now, they show that United are second in the Premier League table, four points off early pace-setters Chelsea. They also sit comfortably at the top of their Champions League group, having won both their games so far. And they have reached the fourth round of the League Cup, where an away tie against Chelsea awaits them. Clearly, talk of not being able to challenge for trophies is quite premature, especially at this stage of the season.
The attack looks good, with Robin van Persie settling in comfortably and scoring some important goals. Shinji Kagawa looks a find, while youth team products like Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck look set to play a more prominent role.
Of course, the current situation isn't perfect. There are worries about the defensive solidity of the team, evident from the goals conceded column of the table. Add to that the persistent doubts about the combative capacity of the midfield, and certain doubts creep in about the prospects of this team. Having said that, it is clear from recent tactics that Sir Alex knows the limitations of this squad and is working hard to address them.
This is where the most important line of thinking for a United fan emerges, one that begins with trusting the manager and having faith in how he is re-shaping the team. Every time someone has laid the gauntlet down, Ferguson has picked it up and raised Manchester United to greater heights. It will be extremely foolish for anyone to bet against him doing it once again, and fans might do well to remember that instead of jumping on media bandwagons based on the performance in the last game.