There's Reason for Optimism as Manchester United Head into the New Year

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentDecember 31, 2013

NORWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  David Moyes manager of Manchester United looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and  Manchester United at Carrow Road on December 28, 2013 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Rather than a New Year signalling a new start at Manchester United, it is more the end of the beginning at Old Trafford.

It has been seven months since Sir Alex Ferguson announced his intention to retire. Five since David Moyes officially took over as manager. 

All Moyes' firsts are out of the way. First game, first win, first defeat. First derby, first European game, first reunion with Everton.

As he heads into the New Year, Moyes can finally get on with the business of managing United. It's a big enough job as it is without having to deal with the circus that comes with replacing the irreplaceable.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07:  (L-R) Unused squad mambers Alexander Buettner, Marouane Fellaini  and Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United look on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

There have been low points and there's plenty left for Moyes to prove. United have lost at Liverpool and at Manchester City. They suffered back-to-back home defeats in the league for the first time since 2002.

They've been stung by late goals against Southampton and Cardiff where once they would have scored them. Moyes' main summer signing Marouane Fellaini has failed to settle and the Belgian midfielder has spent more time on the bench and in the stands than on the pitch.

But ahead of the second half of the season, there's much reason for optimism.

HULL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is seen in the grandstand before the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Manchester United at KC Stadium on December 26, 2013 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Mat
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

United have won their last six games in all competitions. There's a real chance of silverware in the Capital One Cup and they've qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League where they've been handed a winnable tie with Olympiacos.

Despite their struggles in the Premier League the gap between United and the top four is only three points. They might have left themselves too much to do to claw themselves back into the title race but qualifying for next season's Champions League is a must.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10:  Michael Carrick of Manchester United competes with Santi Czorla of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 10, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Ph
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Even United can't afford to slip out of Europe's elite club competition.

Moyes is fully aware it could take him as long as two years to put his stamp on a club run top-to-bottom by one man for more than 26 years. But he can at least console himself that the worst is over. 

United are only ever one game away from crisis, as all big clubs are, but they've suffered disappointment already this season and bounced back. They've been hit by injuries to key players like Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie and found a way to cope.

It's been a difficult start to life at Old Trafford for Moyes as he tries to impose his own ideas on a group of players who won the title last season.

It's a long road but the most treacherous part is over.