Januzaj Sparkled against Swansea
At the beginning of the season, Darren Fletcher was facing the prospect of early retirement from the game after having battled ulcerative colitis, a debilitating bowel condition, for three years and undergoing three operations.
Also, at that time, Adnan Januzaj was, apart from those in the know at Old Trafford, an unknown 18-year-old who surprised many when he was included in United’s first-team squad for the forthcoming season.
On Saturday, against Swansea City, Fletcher and Januzaj repaid the faith shown in them as they masterminded a victory that was a crucial building block in the reconstruction of a campaign that was beginning to show signs of disintegrating on all fronts.
Fletcher’s no nonsense, workmanlike approach to the game does not often evoke rapturous acclaim from the critics, but it's worth noting that, when fit, he was regularly included in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up for difficult European away matches.
On Saturday, however, he was more than just a destroyer.
After a quiet first half, when he was still feeling his way back after such a long absence, he came to life in the second half. He eclipsed Michael Carrick, who doesn’t look to be near his best after suffering an Achilles injury, and many of United’s best moves were initiated by him.
Approaching his 30th birthday, Fletcher will probably not be viewed as a long-term solution to David Moyes’ midfield problems, but in the short term, he offers the passion and the desire that many have felt United lacked in recent weeks.
Januzaj, by contrast, offers us an optimistic view of the long-term future.
It’s rare that such a young player exhibits the all-around talent the young tyro demonstrated on Saturday.
His close control and body movement to wrong-foot defenders when he sets off on a mazy dribble is reminiscent of Ryan Giggs in his pomp.
His ability to cross on the run and pick out team-mates catches defenders off guard, and he was even given the duty of taking virtually all of the dead-ball kicks on Saturday, crashing the ball against the crossbar with his first free-kick.
He was crucially involved in both goals and regularly caused mayhem in the Swansea defence, which seemed unsure how to deal with him once Moyes moved him out wide in the second half.
The United faithful have taken to him immediately, and why wouldn’t they?
The cautious amongst us would suggest that Moyes uses him sparingly, wrapping him up in cotton wool and trying to avoid "burning out" such a young talent.
Unfortunately, United, in their current predicament, do not have the luxury of being able to do that.
Every game from now until the end of the season is crucial. They have already dropped more points in the league than they did last year and the season is only just over halfway through.
Unless United manage to sign three or four star players this month, which seems highly unlikely, Januzaj needs to be an integral part of the team, barring injury, for the rest of the season.
Finishing out of the top four is unthinkable, and besides the risk of losing Rooney and van Persie without the carrot of Champions League football, it would also reduce the likelihood of being able to lure top players for the 2014-15 campaign.
It was noticeable how the spirits were lifted after the first goal on Saturday.
Poor misses from Chris Smalling and Shinji Kagawa would have cemented United’s dominance in a game that, hopefully, will mark a turning point for the Reds.
It is now up to the other players to step up to the mark and match the standards set by Fletcher and Januzaj on Sunday, when they will almost certainly face a stiffer challenge against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.