We are now at the halfway point of the 2013-14 Premier League season and for Manchester United the report card reads "could do better."
It has been a tough start for new manager David Moyes, as had been anticipated, but there have been signs in recent weeks that the club is beginning to get to grips with life after Sir Alex Ferguson.
The next few weeks bring opportunity, with the chance for Moyes to continue his renovation of the United squad in the January transfer window.
While the summer was mishandled by United, there can be no excuses this time round. Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward is now settled into his job and the club must be efficient in their transfer market dealings.
On Tuesday, David Moyes had this to say about the club's plans in the month ahead:
Moyes on the January transfer window: "I'm not sure it's a brilliant month to do business but we'll be looking, like everybody else." #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 31, 2013
But, where is attention focusing as United enter the first full year of their brave new era?
Martinez confident of Barkley stay
Everton boss Roberto Martinez is confident that his club will be able to retain rising midfield star Ross Barkley in January, despite reports linking the player with a move to Manchester United.
Per Manchester Evening News' Rob Dawson, the Spanish manager was asked whether he felt he would be able to retain the Englishman in light of a potential £50 million bid from Old Trafford.
Yes. Absolutely. There is not even a doubt. I have said it many times that in football you can't fight the trend of the game but what you can dictate is the timing and everything you do should be for the good of the club.
We have done it before. Everything that happens needs to be to improve the squad, to give it a longer-term in relation to the strategy of the youth of the players and the blend you have with experience.
That is based on football decisions and I can guarantee that will be the case in January 100 per cent.
Barkley's drive and ability in an attacking midfield role has been important to Everton's positive start to the season and he has already worked himself into the England role ahead of next summer's World Cup.
A familiar figure to Moyes, who handed him his Everton debut, Barkley would be a suitable addition to a Manchester United side that has often lacked dynamism from midfield areas.
Everton, though, look determined to stand their ground this month, with their own European ambitions dependent on a strong second half to the season.
Nice reply from Everton manager Roberto Martinez on the Barkley transfer story: "£50million? We wouldn't let anyone out on loan in January."— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) December 31, 2013
A £50 million offer may prove too much to reject, but such a massive figure seems enormous for a player so early in his career given that United have never come close to matching that sum in the past.
It is a story that may gain traction in the coming weeks, but for now, looks unlikely to come to pass.
A Ravel return to Old Trafford?
Numerous reports on Tuesday have linked former Manchester United youngster Ravel Morrison with an exit from West Ham, with Metro's Danny Griffiths among those suggesting a return to Old Trafford could be in order.
Morrison left United in January 2012 after patience with his antics grew thin, with the then teenager having had multiple run-ins with the law as documented by the Times' Rory Smith.
In London, there is a feeling that he has matured and is now more focused on playing football. However, West Ham are in a battle to survive and Griffiths, among others, reports he could be sold to raise transfer funds for their fight against relegation.
Per Goal.com's Chris Davie, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce expressed concerns in October that United would return for their former charge, saying: "I don't know if there is a buy-back clause and what that figure might be if it even exists. But my real big worry is that Manchester United will come back to buy him."
While a buy-back clause would appear not to exist, the Telegraph's Matt Law reports that any offer of £10 million would require the Hammers to raise his salary to £60,000 per week—a figure the Hammers would likely baulk at.
A return to Old Trafford, if he could resist a return to previous ways, would suit the club with Morrison counted as a home-grown player in European competition.
In the current transfer market it is also very rare that a leading English talent should be available for less than £10 million.
Southampton's Luke Shaw a no-go
Another position on Manchester United's shopping list is at left-back, with Southampton's Luke Shaw a name frequently mentioned in recent weeks.
However, on Tuesday, ESPN FC's Richard Jolly reported that a Saints source insisted that Shaw was not for sale in the coming weeks.
The line coming out of the club is very much in line with previous statements made by manager Mauricio Pochettino, who was adamant Shaw would be remaining at St Mary's Stadium.
Per the Mirror's Alex Crook last week, Pochettino stated: "The player wants to stay at the club. He has made a statement about this himself. Other clubs can watch him and show their interest but he does not want to go anywhere and we do not want to sell him."
While the inability to sign a player of Shaw's potential would be a blow, there are plentiful options available to Moyes in the left-back position as he seeks a long-term heir to the throne of Patrice Evra.
Porto's Alex Sandro and Sevilla's Alberto Moreno are seen as two of Europe's finest young attacking full-backs, while it would be no surprise to see Moyes, at some point, revisit his interest in former charge Leighton Baines.