ALAN Pardew is desperate for answers.
Rather than finding them, however, he is unearthing yet more questions.
Defeats – United have five of them in six – have a habit of throwing up such posers.
“Why isn’t Jonas (Gutierrez) playing as well?”.
“Why isn’t (Cheic) Tiote having the same effect as last year?”.
Those are just two of the problems Pardew ponders as he attempts to draw comparison with last season, a campaign which yielded a fifth-placed finish and European qualification.
That saw the 51-year-old crowned manager of the year by both the Premier League and the LMA.
Pardew, it seemed, had all the answers.
But the travails of Europa League entry and the inevitable upshot of injury and suspension has left United in a precarious position as they hurtle towards 2013.
They are just two points above the relegation zone, a territory they have not flirted with since the doomed campaign of 2008/09.
After tomorrow’s visit of the champions, Manchester City, they will travel to both Manchester United and Arsenal before welcoming in the new year.
The situation could get worse before it gets better.
Winning those above-mentioned awards was the easy part for Pardew, he admits as much himself.
“When you’re winning you just roll into work, everyone is in good form and you don’t have to find too many answers,” he said.
“We’ve got to find a lot of answers right now.
“You can look at a lot of factors – injuries, suspensions, players losing form, blow after blow.
“As a result we’ve lacked momentum and that carried us through last year.
“Sometimes, when it’s like that, you don’t have to think about things – but we’re having to think very hard right now.
“We’ve worked harder during these last seven or eight games then we have during all of my time at the football club.”
One thing Pardew is dedicating a lot of thought to is January, the re-opening of the transfer window his chief concern.
For while the new year does not exactly herald a fresh start for United – they can’t erase recent defeats – it nonetheless offers opportunity for a new beginning.
“We’re working as hard as we can to turn the situation in our favour,” Pardew went on as the discussion turned to events beyond the festive fixtures.
“We look weak with the injuries we’ve sustained, and we need to bring a player or two in.
“Mike (Ashley) has been very supportive, but I want to look him in the eye with great results under my belt. At the moment I can’t.
“He understands that, and has been supportive.
“So we’ll look to the window and I might need some assistance with that. We’ll have to see.”
Optimism, then, resides in the manager, even in the short term.
“It’s important that I keep my head,” he said. “You’ve got to remember that two wins puts us in the top 10.
“Stoke City had three wins in a week and all of a sudden the table can look different.
“Yes, we’ve had some bad results, and the home defeats to West Ham and Swansea have made tomorrow’s game more difficult than it should be.
“We’ve put ourselves under pressure.
“But one win, a big win such as against Manchester City, could change all of that.”
Such an outcome tomorrow afternoon would certainly answer a lot of questions.