The Hawthorns, West Bromwich — It's too early to say Manchester United have turned a corner. Too early even to say with any authority that it's coming.
But the 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns was, at least, comfortable. And given the criticism David Moyes and his team have taken recently, that represents welcome relief.
Yes, it was only West Brom. And yes, Pepe Mel's struggling side had some encouraging moments. But for United, it was still a step in the right direction.
The task now is to replicate it against Liverpool and then Olympiacos. Those tests will prove a far better measuring stick.
The teamsheet Moyes handed in at the Hawthorns revealed another change of tactic.
Two weeks ago at Crystal Palace, he found a formula that worked. It was the first time he picked Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in midfield with a front four of Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
The result was goals from Rooney and Van Persie and one of United's most comfortable away wins of the season.
But, inexplicably, for a bigger game at Olympiacos three days later, he changed.
Back came the wingers, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. Back came Tom Cleverley in midfield.
And back came the type of turgid, lacklustre performance that has scarred United's season.
Mata, Januzaj, Rooney and Van Persie were reunited at the Hawthorns. And with them returned a balance that the team have missed at times under Moyes.
It's perhaps not the United way promoted by Sir Alex Ferguson, with wide players flying down the wings. But it's one that, at the moment, is winning games. And in the context of United's season, that may as well be gold dust.
“We were hurt after the Olympiacos game, and we needed to go out and show everyone that we are a good team," Rooney said, per ManUtd.com. "We’ll fight for the shirt, and we’ll fight for a place in the team, and I think that showed today."
Rooney added: "We played with a great energy, we were exciting and we always looked a threat, so I think we deserved the three-goal win. And it could have been more."
As well as three welcome points, Moyes will also have been encouraged by the performances from Fellaini and Rafael.
Fellaini, who was left out in favour of Cleverley at Olympiacos, is slowly starting to look more comfortable. What he did at West Brom, breaking up play and shielding the back four, wasn't particularly eye-catching but necessary nonetheless.
Rafael, whose forward bursts were responsible for two goals, is playing like the Rafael of 2012 again, rather than the Rafael of 2010.
It was also significant that, in the week Nemanja Vidic was photographed signing his contract at Inter Milan, it was Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who played at centre-back. And both played well.
After reverting to a four-man midfield against Olympiacos, all eyes will be on Moyes' selection for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday.
It's difficult to look past the team that took the field at the Hawthorns—with the exception of perhaps Jonny Evans—when trying to pick United's best team.
And Moyes needs his best players if he's going to salvage anything from this most trying of seasons.
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