Nemanja Vidic believes Manchester United are now in pole position to defend their Premier League title after the club's young guns saw them through their mid-season injury crisis.
The skipper was carried off with ruptured cruciate ligaments against Basel in December and added to a growing list of casualties in the United treatment room.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to call upon a talented but relatively inexperienced pool of players that included Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck who did everything that was asked of them.
And although Vidic remains out until the end of the season, as does Darren Fletcher, the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Anderson and Ashley Young are back in the team as United lead the race to be crowned champions in May.
"I always believed we would challenge for the title," he said. "It doesn't matter who is out. Manchester United never depend on one player.
"If you look at the past, players have left and fans have said how are we going to cope?
"But the manager is the best at replacing players and the team still win titles and trophies. That is why Manchester United are so special.
"We didn't expect the young players would play so many games and have such influence on the team. This is a great plus for the club.
"Obviously we have had some injuries over the past year, which is another difficult thing we have gone through, but we have coped and been very competitive with Manchester City.
"Now we are at the top of the league and have a big chance to win it."
As for Vidic, he remains philosophical about his injury and cautious about his return for fears he will do long-term damage through rushing back too soon.
The Serbian never had any hopes of making a comeback this season and revealed he was resigned to an early end to his season almost immediately.
"I never thought about coming back," he added. "I am not pushing. I am lucky, the manager and the physios and the doctor weren't trying to beat the record.
"They didn't want me to come back in five months. There would be no point rushing to play one or two games.
"As soon as I got the injury and had the operation, I knew I wouldn't be back. I am just focussed on next season.
"When I come back I want to be at the same level I was before my injury. This is one of the things that drive me on. I can't change what happened. I have to get on with it."