Manchester United will place their faith in Carlos Tevez to help them survive a striker crisis against Aston Villa tomorrow – but only after they rub salt into the proud Argentina star’s gaping wounds.
As Wayne Rooney is suspended and Dimitar Berbatov has been ruled out for a fortnight with the ankle injury he suffered at Fulham before the international break, Tevez is United’s only fit senior forward.
Yet the 24-year-old has hardly had a trouble-free week himself.
Wednesday’s World Cup rout in Bolivia equalled the worst defeat Argentina have ever suffered in a competitive match, with Tevez going through the agony along with Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Gabriel Heinze.
And after brooding on his fate on the flight back across the Atlantic, John O’Shea revealed Tevez could not expect much sympathy when he returned to Carrington.
“We will give Carlos a bit of stick,” the defender said.
“Sometimes you get an arm around the shoulder but Patrice Evra and Park Ji-sung will not give him any sympathy. They will get stuck right into him.
“It was just an amazing result.”
However, with Tevez needed in top form tomorrow, O’Shea wants his team-mate to channel his aggression in the right manner.
“We just hope he is angry and wants to take his frustration out on Villa,” he said.
United could certainly do with Tevez on top form as they look to escape a slump that has seen them lose successive games against Liverpool and Fulham, eroding what appeared to be an impregnable position at the Premier League summit.
For most clubs, a two-week losing streak would be regarded as little more than a blip, but O’Shea is aware Manchester United are not ’most clubs’.
“Every defeat is a major crisis at this place, so two must be escalating towards a disaster,” he observed.
“It is one of those things. We suffered one defeat, then things went against us at Fulham, with Paul Scholes getting sent off.
“But even with 10 men we should have been leading given the chances we had.
“Now we have to cope with a couple of suspensions and a couple of niggling injuries. But the manager has the squad to cope with these situations.”
Apart from the notable exception of Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose Portugal side are still struggling to get into a qualification position, United’s international contingent returned in buoyant mood.
The positive results have fuelled a belief the international break came at exactly the right time for the Red Devils.
“You could say it has been a good time to have a change of scenery,” said O’Shea.
“Most of the players have come back happy at their results and now we must focus on a tough game against Aston Villa.
“They are going through a bit of a tough spell as well, so we hope home advantage counts for us on Sunday.”
As United were seven points in front with a game in hand at one stage, heading into the weekend fixtures a single point and match in front of their nearest rivals is nowhere near as comfortable.
Yet, as O’Shea points out, rather than worry about the lost points, it would be better to focus on the ones United have gained.
“We are happy with the position we are in,” he said.
“The rest of the teams like to be where we are. If we look after ourselves I am sure we will be OK.”