Nemanja Vidic never had any doubt Manchester United would shrug off his season-ending absence and make a strong defence of their Premier League title.
When Vidic was stretchered off with ruptured cruciate ligaments against Basle in December as United crashed out of the Champions League, many reckoned their entire campaign would be a disaster.
Already trailing to a rampant Manchester City, Wayne Rooney and David de Gea struggling for form and their captain sidelined, the wheels were already in danger of falling off the campaign.
Less than four months on, United are now five points clear of a City team mired in a slump.
"I always believed we would challenge for the title," said Vidic. "It doesn't matter who is out, we 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."
Vidic's absence has seen the likes of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck step up to the plate. The Serbian said: "We didn't expect the young players would play so many games and have such influence on the team.
"Obviously we have had some injuries over the past year, but we have coped and been very competitive with Man City.
"Now we are at the top of the league and have a big chance to win it."
Vidic is making good progress in his recovery, but won't put a timescale on any comeback.
He added: "The manager and the physios and the doctor weren't trying to beat any record.
"They didn't want me to come back in five months. There would be no point rushing to play one or two games."