Manchester United skipper Patrice Evra has warned the club’s army of critics next week will not mark the “end of an empire” even if they relinquish their Premier League title to Manchester City.
Despite yesterday’s 2-0 win over Swansea, it is going to require relegation-threatened QPR avoiding defeat at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday to give United any hope of retaining their crown.
Considering Alex Ferguson’s men established an eight-point lead five games ago, it is a sorry state of affairs that has already led to intense scrutiny of the merits of United’s current group of players.
Evra is not convinced a major overhaul is required.
“I know that if we don’t win the league then a lot of people will say this is the end of the empire and ask how we will survive,” said the France full-back.
“But there is a lot of talent at this club.
“We’ve had to deal with a lot through injuries and losing experienced players last summer and it’s never easy to find a solution immediately.”
Nevertheless, when United’s poor performances in both European competitions are taken into consideration, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that significant reinforcements are required.
Dimitar Berbatov’s late cameo against Swansea appeared to be a farewell gesture from Ferguson and the Bulgarian looks set to head a list of departures that may also include Anderson, Federico Macheda and Michael Owen.
Park Ji-sung’s situation may also come under scrutiny, Darren Fletcher’s health issues need to be resolved, whilst Paul Pogba still has to make a final decision about whether his destiny remains at Old Trafford or with new Italian champions Juventus.
It is not completely out of the question that Ferguson may also elect to dispense with one of his highest-profile players, although before he did, the United boss would want to make sure he had adequate cover.
Supporters, informed the price of their season tickets was being frozen once more, would accept all this as long as it was offset by Ferguson spending significant sums to reinforce his squad, particularly in attacking areas.
Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa has already hinted at a summer move to United from back-to-back Bundesliga winners Borussia Dortmund and, at 23, certainly fits the age profile of a current Ferguson signing.
However, United have refused to confirm the impending transfer and further details are not likely to be known until after Dortmund’s German Cup final appearance against Bayern Munich next Saturday.
Most supporters believe it would take more than that to solidify United’s position though and if new signings do not arrive, the blame will land at the door of the club’s owners for a relative lack of investment compared to most Premier League trophy challengers.
Of course, the season could still end with what Ferguson described yesterday as “the celebration of our lives”.
It seems improbable though, with midfielder Michael Carrick admitting all his team-mates can do now is hope for a favour from United old-boy Mark Hughes.
“You can’t hide from it,” he said.
“We kept believing and we still believe anything can happen. It’s not over.
“We can still hope. We still have to get a win at Sunderland, which is not a given.
“Then all we can do is hope QPR do what they’ve got to do and help us out.”
Yet should Bolton hit trouble at Stoke, Hughes’ team would still survive even if they lost, leaving the situation open to even more confusion.
The frustration for United is that it should never have come to this.
At the time, City’s late comeback to grab a draw against Sunderland and United’s lacklustre performance at Wigan seemed to be of little consequence in another season heading for glory at Old Trafford.
But those two events helped create a situation from which United chucked away two points against Everton, turning their trip to City last week effectively into a title-decider.
“It’s the natural thing to look back at certain things during the season and the ’what ifs’ in the last three weeks,” said Carrick.
“But we have to focus on our game.
“We’re still in it and still have a fighting chance. All our focus and energy has to be on that last game.”