David De Gea has been in outstanding form for Man United this season
De Gea can conjure important 0-0 draws away from home with his miracles and magic in goal, as he did once again last week in the Champions League trip to Seville.
He papers over so many cracks that manager Mourinho can keep on smiling and United fans can keep on hoping the campaign will end with a happy dollop of glory.
Where, though, would Manchester United be this season without the consistent brilliance of their Spanish goalkeeper? That is a mighty question.
You have to believe the answer would be seriously unfavourable. There are many questions swirling around in the current uneasy atmosphere at Old Trafford, the majority surrounding the form and mood of midfielder Paul Pogba.
Is there is a feud between the superstar player and Mourinho? Has his nose been put out of joint by the signing and the mega-salary of new team-mate Alexis Sanchez? Can both players be accommodated in the tactics desired by the manager?
When you see Pogba sitting on the substitute’s bench for the start of a significant fixture in the Champions League away to Sevilla, the gossip and speculation will not swiftly blow away.
To my mind, however, there is another even more crucial question to be asked at Manchester United, one that is decidedly more important to English football in general.
That is the question about Marcus Rashford – about how he has faded into the shadows this season, and whether he needs to leave his boyhood club for the sake of his career? Statistics emphasise the issue.
Rashford has played in a portion of 38 different games season, scoring 10 goals. But the numbers hide some bitter truths for the young striker.
He has taken part in the full 90 minutes of a game on only six occasions, and hasn’t started a Premier League match since the arrival of Sanchez. There have been only two Premier League goals since early September.
Jose Mourinho started Paul Pogba on the substitutes bench against Sevilla
Back in October, at a pivotal moment for Rashford, he was voted into the top three of the Golden Boy standings for the best young footballer in Europe.
He had been accorded the same honour 12 months earlier in recognition of his obvious style, talent and supreme potential.
But potential is useless without regular game time. At the age of 20 a player needs to be consolidating his progress on the field rather than warming the bench for most of the time and restricted to cameo outings.
It has been the fate of too many young English players in recent times, and the warning signs are obvious in the case of Rashford.
Listen, for example, to the intelligent observations of Thierry Henry, who thinks the player should be considering his options.
Marcus Rashford has had limited playing opportunities in the last month
It is becoming even more difficult for Marcus Rashford since Alexis Sanchez arrived?
“One of the most important things for me is that you have to play,” says Henry. “You cannot be on the bench and missing games, missing learning about the game and stopping that momentum – and an example is Rashford.
“Michael Owen had the opportunity to back up what he did at the start because he played, and he played, and he played, and he played — and I can give you more examples.
“But Rashford has not been able to capitalise. It is becoming even more difficult for him since Sanchez arrived. “I think at the end of the season, he is maybe going to have a thinking day of: ‘Do I stay?’”
Rumours have surfaced that Rashford is dismayed by his lack of match time and this has prompted, in the modern way, the bookmakers to go into overdrive.
Jose Mourinho’s side face top four rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday
It is a measure of the impression the 20-year-old has already made across the football world that Real Madrid are listed as favourites should he quit Old Trafford.
That is for the future. A more immediate concern is what is happening in a World Cup year. Rashford was certain of an England place at the start the season – but now?
Less time in action, and less time to score goals will only conspire to push him down the pecking order of the international squad.
Two friendlies against Holland and Italy next month will be a key indicator for Rashford of where he stands and how he reflects on the question of where his future lies.
Alex Hales looks set to quit Test cricket
THE cricket community has been remarkably sanguine about Alex Hales and Adil Rashid turning their backs on first-class red ball cricket and opting to play only the T20 and 50-over white ball versions of the sport.
Their counties accepted the loss of talent without apparent alarm, England appear to have made no effort to dissuade them, and team-mate Moeen Ali chorused the bandwagon view that it would help Hales and Rashid improve their white-ball skills.
I fear it is a dangerous moment for the great game.
Others like Jos Buttler and David Willey are rumoured to be considering similar paths, and if more and more high-class players shun Test cricket, the glory of the five-day pinnacle of the sport will soon enough belong to history. This is not to decry the advent of T20. Its huge popularity is a boon for cricket, bringing in sorely needed extra revenue, and inspiring youngsters to take up the sport.
What the game must do, and fight tooth and nail to do, is find a future where Test cricket and T20 co-exist – and where players find them equally alluring. Solutions may not be easy, but the complacency on show right now is simply madness.
Billy Morgan won Team GB’s fifth medal at the Winter Olympics
THE Winter Olympics have been a jolly diversion these past couple of weeks, proving that snow business really can be show business.
A few medals for the GB team were only to be expected from an investment of £31million. Perhaps it was worth it.
What we could have done without, for sure, was the relentlessly partisan commentary on the BBC and the hyping up of no-hopers.
The skiing and skating and bobsleighs are fun to watch whichever country is winning.
WHO could not thrill to the joy of Wigan Athletic knocking the football aristocrats of Manchester City off their perch and out of the FA Cup?
It was a giant-killing to rank with the best of them through the ages from Walsall beating Arsenal in 1933 to Colchester humbling Leeds in 1971, and it was mesmerising to watch.
But all the natural exuberance does not mean we should tolerate the pitch invasion that saw one Wigan fan confront City striker Sergio Aguero and allegedly spin the player’s ear and verbally abuse him.
One such incident is one too many.