Manchester United: 7 Wants for Every United Fan's Wish-List This Christmas Time
December has been a month to forget for United fans.
After two hugely disappointing defeats in as many weeks, against supposed small-time minnows, the red half of Manchester's season looks not only disjointed but potentially derailed.
With the club's group stage crash out from the Champions League and an early exit in the League Cup ringing in their ears, doubts have been cast over United's title aspirations and quality; their early season hype and pomp all but deflated and soured.
'Tis soon the season to be jolly however, and Manchester United fans have plenty of cause for optimism this Christmas. From holding firm in second place at the approach to the Premier League's summit to a squad bursting with exciting youthful potential and energy, now is not the time to mope and surrender.
Grab a mug of double strength mulled wine, chuck another log on the fire, and enjoy these 7 wants for every United fan's wish-list this Christmas and hope that you've been a good boy or girl this year. Ho ho ho!
The Speedy and Complete Recovery of Nemanja Vidic
The stats speak for themselves. United have conceded just three goals whilst Vidic has been on the pitch this season, compared to 19 goals in 13 games without him. When the Serbian juggernaut has played the full 90 minutes, only Newcastle's suspect penalty has bettered his defensive team.
Forget United's early Champions League exit: in the season catastrophe stakes, Nemanja Vidic's season-long layoff is an enormous blow to United's season as a whole.
The Serb is a formidable presence in defence and, arguably United's best and most consistant player, but his qualities as a leader on the pitch cannot be underestimated. The loss of the club's steely captain comes during a period when big authoritative personalities and voices often go missing within the Old Trafford ranks.
Rather than finding a lump of long-term injury period coal in their Christmas stockings, United fans will be hoping that the damage incurred by their Serbian super defender in his Swiss breakdown heals fast and well.
If Nemanja Vidic tackles his own recovery as hard as he does threats on United's goal, he could be back sooner than the prognosis suggests!
Squad Reinforcements That Bring Drive, Determination and Spirit
After a show-stopping start to their Premier League campaign this season, United's show seems to have literally stopped, as the first team mislaid its momentum, energy, verve and ideas. What came next seemed a world away from the drubbings of North London's finest.
Whether it be through over-rotation, injuries or frustrating coincidences of individuals from sliding as one, Manchester United are a team that has tripped out of its earlier rhythm.
At times like this, the squad is crucial. Players need to punch their way into the starting line-up with refreshing enthusiasm and inspiration. This has largely failed to happen so far this year.
The likes of Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans and Dimitar Berbatov are figures of derision and fun for some sections of United's fanbase but they are exactly the sort of players that can bring back the confidence, vigour and lift.
For Christmas, United fans will be going against tradition and hoping for an absence of turkeys this festive season. The other animal metaphors of scapegoats, headless chickens and wild geese chases also need to go.
Sir Alex's squad needs to rediscover its renowned, thoroughbred depth and vitality if Manchester United are going to start 2012 as they mean to go on. A fit-again and in-form Darren Fletcher would go a long way to solving many of the team's current problems.
City Imploding in Spectacular Style
It must be said that the horror of crashing out of Europe's premier competition was somewhat tempered by the fact that City failed to make the cut for the last 16 too.
As things currently stand domestically, the laser blue menace sits atop the Premiership table, five points ahead of United.
Whilst such a gap is far from unassailable, watching Manchester City's season turn from sweetness to sour would serve up a delicious slice of schadenfreude to compensate for the 6-1 at Old Trafford.
So far City have cruised through the season with barely a worry for their back-room physio staff (bar Owen "Mr Glass" Hargreaves, of course) yet an injury to one of their key personnel could spell serious trouble for their season's prospects.
Similarly, a dip in form will strike Mancini's men soon enough. As we saw at times in the Champions League, City are a team that can panic at times under pressure and whose morale appears brittle when stressed.
A Return to the United Way of Fluent Attacking Play and Gritted Determination
United's early season launch through the opening weeks of the Premier League suggested that Sir Alex Ferguson's squad had turned a corner. It was as if the Great Scot had learnt the lessons he had observed from his team's two Champions League final defeats to Barcelona, marrying an Anglicised version of the "Tikka-Takka" to the impulsive buccaneering of his 1999 treble winners.
Gone was the cold and cautious grind for results. Gone were the days of 4-5-1. Gone were nervy away games that could never quite be finished.
Gone—an era of functional football in favour of a new, strangely British brand of attacking flair packed full of bullish, headstrong passion and determined will.
Wayne Rooney was on fire and Nani added some bespoke flashiness; the new, young signings and prospects burst into life under the guise of an in-form Evra and Jonny Evans.
As we now know, such impressive strides belied a core weakness that became all too obvious once the momentum failed to reassert itself. A few too many bumps in the road and United looked tired, mundane and ordinary again, but without their rigid, so-called "workman-like" boring industry of the recent past.
Whilst the League Cup and European failings have been disappointing, the ship is somewhat steadied as far as the league is concerned. From here on in, the team must strive to recover their swagger, belief and imagination.
Glory isn't won through silverware and trophy hauls alone, and so for Christmas, United fans will be wishing for a return to the beautiful, chest-thumping football they know their team are capable of.
Cleverley Free from Injury and Available for Selection
Tom Cleverley has been a frustrating silver lining to the season so far.
His impact has been undeniable within a sub-par United midfield, but his appearances have been limited by injury.
The latest update is that the young Englishman won't see action until the new year. If he can overcome his recent luck and fitness problems, Cleverley could be the revelation in midfield United have been missing.
Another big wish for the Christmas list this year: a fit-again Tom Cleverley ready and raring to go.
A Sensible and Successful Approach to the Europa League and FA Cup
The Premier League is the priority, of course, but the two other trophies that remain within United's reach must be respected.
The FA Cup and Manchester United haven't enjoyed the best relationship of late, but the club holds a proud tradition over the world's oldest knock-out competition, and another win is long overdue.
League title or not, the FA Cup is a trophy well within United's sights; one that would bring glory and bragging rights to fans, especially after drawing Manchester City in the next round. The Manchester Classico be in for more instalments this season.
Whilst United enjoy no such traditions in the Europa League, Europe's secondary competition should not be arrogantly dismissed outright as a pointless distraction as some have. United fans should instead think back to 1991 when Sir Alex Ferguson captured the Cup Winners Cup against Barcelona.
This first European trophy of his Old Trafford reign was a springboard to his domestic domination throughout the nineties, an effect that could be repeated by a good run in the Europa League.
Remembering the old adage, "success breeds success", and the momentum won by lifting the Carling Cup in 2005, the Europa League is well worth the effort, especially considering the opportunity it affords for the club's younger players and youth prospects.
History Repeating Itself...
Whilst the doomsayers and anyone-but-United churls gather above like a flock of gossiping vultures, United fans can take some comfort in their club's recent past.
In 2005, United also failed to make it through to the second round in the Champions League, finishing at the bottom of their group. The Red Devils would go on to lift the very same trophy just three years later.
Back in the nineties, with the arrival of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Sir Alex's future was declared bleak. United took little notice to the negative chatter and overcame his two greatest sides, reasserting their dominance in the process.
Travelling further back, and the manner with which Manchester United hunted down and vaporised the colossal league built up by Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United in the 1995/6 season offers hope.
With every new threat that has risen to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, be it Newcastle, Arsenal, The Russian Revolution at Chelsea, Rafa's Liverpool, now the Petro-billionaires of Man City and the technocratic gods of Barcelona, the football press have leapt upon the bandwagon that reads Manchester United: a club in decline.
On each and every past occasion however, Ferguson and his charges rose to meet such challenges, conquer them and better themselves, their methods and position in the process.
History repeats itself and runs in cycles. Who's to say this period will be any different?
What response do you want to see from Manchester United this Christmas? What needs to change? Who needs to play? Why have we found ourselves in this position? Let us know your thoughts!