As the transfer window slammed shut in Spetember, everyone expected it would be Manchester United's two new South American galacticos, record signing Angel Di Maria and the talismanic Colombian Radamel Falcao, who would turn the club round and drive Louis van Gaal's team to fresh glory. They were seen as dead certs, copper-bottomed investments whose huge transfer fees brought the guarantee of instant success.
United's revival is now starting to take shape, and, as the pundits predicted, it has a strong Spanish accent. But the team's turnaround is not built on the men from South America; instead it is the trio from the old Hispanic mother country who are the principal architects of the revival.
David De Gea, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera have played together for years, and they are rapidly establishing a team within a team, a tiki taka quorum sending ambition and positive energy coursing through the rest of the squad. De Gea is keeping the ball out at one end, while Mata and Herrera are helping United put it in at the other, their creativity galvanising a team which looked so lifeless and disenchanted under David Moyes.
While De Gea has been a top goalkeeper for two full years now, his compatriots haven't had it easy this season. Indeed van Gaal looked to have lost patience with both Mata and Herrera only a few weeks ago. But time is now proving the Dutchman wrong.
Mata, the former playmaker, was benched for three games in a row – against Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Arsenal. Many opined that the exile he endured under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea would be repeated under van Gaal, another demanding coach with no time for lightweight diletantes.
At the same time, Herrera was an unused substitute in four consecutive games – Chelsea, Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Arsenal. Some reports even claimed United were considering sending him back to La Liga in January despite having spent £29 to secure his services as recently as the summer.
But, fortunately for United, injuries to Di Maria and Daley Blind forced van Gaal to hand Mata and Herrera fresh opportunities in recent games, and they have proved they can play a pivotal role in United's new era.
Anyone who isn't convinced of the importance of United's three amigos should check out the stats; for they give a clear picture of the impact Mata, Herrera and De Gea are having on their club's season.
Mata scored the winning goal for United in the tight home victories over Crystal Palace - when he came off the bench - and Stoke, picking up the man of the match award in the latter game. The Asturian playmaker is actually proving even more effective than he was in his first two years at Chelsea, both of which brought him the club's Player of the Season award.
Having scored 32 goals and provided 58 assists in 135 appearances for the Blues, he has already notched 10 goals and six assists in his first 25 games in United red.
De Gea, meanwhile, was Man of the Match in United's dramatic win at the Emirates Stadium, kept clean sheets against Palace and Hull and made another brilliant save in the final few minutes in the Stoke win to deny Mame Biram Diouf an equaliser.
Herrera set up Marouane Fellaini's opener in the victory over Stoke City and was Man of the Match in the previous game against Hull, replacing the injured Di Maria in the 13<sup>th minute before leading his side to their best performance of the campaign.
The trio are neighbours in Manchester and inseparable in the dressing room. They helped the Spanish national under-21 side to clinch the European Championships in 2011, weaving a series of tiki-taka tapestries around helpless opponents. Now they are starting to bring a similar style to United; van Gaal's men are starting to suffocate opponents, and enjoyed a remarkable 76% of possession against Hull.
United fans have long been crying out for a team which can monopolise the ball, like the great Spain and Barcelona teams of the recent pass. With their three Spanish masters on board, that wish is now being granted.