Manchester United players look a tad hangover during the Cup clash against Sheffield United

It's difficult to come up with a new word every week to describe the state of affairs at Manchester United. At the risk of having no word left in the Thesaurus to use next week, I'll settle for 'Ennui' this week.

There's a sense among fans that we're having our pockets picked this season. Are we seriously more than half-way into a Manchester United season? January and we've not seen the net bulge for thirty times? It'll have to be a hell of a ride from hereon for that Season Review DVD to hit double digits in sales come this summer. Even the, they might have to edit out the majority of the first half.

There was a time when I had sarcastic sympathy for folks that dish out hard earned money to pay for a live performance of an artist who turned up for just five minutes to sing three lines of one of his/her hits. I thought it to be one of the most organised forms of robbery since the Second World War. They would argue that being there could easily earn them a precious autograph from their idols but I'd trade it for 90 minutes of watching my beloved club thrill me over and over again, through the emotions to a climax of effervescent joy unconfided.

Not anymore. And thankfully for match-going Reds, United are not due at Old Trafford until the end of the month. Our away following, being the most brilliant set of travelling fans in the country, will still find voice in themselves to give the team a good shout at St. James' Park and Anfield. Indeed, the nature of the fixtures hardly requires any motivation. Whilst Louis van Gaal goes about his task of diffusing both situations into damp squibs, it should remain lively on the terraces.

Newcastle, as most 'wee' clubs, like to think themselves as 'rivals' to United. North-West connections plus one failed attempt to win the league in the mid-90s are but some of the justifications you'll hear their fans give as to why they loathe the Red Devils. Regardless their reasons, it doesn't take much to hate Manchester United if you are not a Red. Indeed, plenty of fans in the country are still coming to terms with the unprecedented success of United over the past quarter of a century.

Steve McClaren's side though are struggling---in a different way from how United are struggling under van Gaal. They've lost their last four and it keeps registering that they only really turn up when the big boys are in town, to get them live on the telly. Perhaps in hindsight, the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford back in August was the norm, but victories over Spurs and Liverpool were not performances from a side struggling in the red zone of the log. That form book dictates that United are in for quite a game on Tuesday.

The calm after the storm of the nightmare December has led Louis van Gaal to believe that perhaps the worst is over. This week has the look of a possible encore of what transpired over the festive season. With Liverpool (another side that turn it on for the big occasion) at Anfield next after tomorrow, something's got to give! Claim the next six points on offer, and United will almost certainly claw back part of Arsenal's 9 point lead at the summit of the league. Drop further away from the top and van Gaal will drop further into the mire of the media circus and fans' anger.

For the arm chair Red, Tuesday is the 21st straight desperate hope that the ghost of Sir Matt Busby shall be channelled into mindset of the team to get them playing like Busby's Babes. Anything else will be a further dose of listlessness. Dissatisfaction. Ennui. But we'll still love them unconditionally. Defend them to the death in the spite of rival fans. These are the only marriages that are guaranteed to last forever.    

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