Nemanja Vidic was never in doubt that Manchester United would battle for the Premier League title in spite of his absence through injury.
Vidic, 30, has not featured for United since suffering a serious knee injury during December's crucial Champions League group stage defeat away to FC Basel.
After the Serbian was ruled out for the remainder of the season it was suggested the Red Devils could struggle without their talismanic skipper.
But an impressive run of seven straight league victories has seen United open up a five-point lead over their rivals Manchester City at the table's summit.
"I always believed we would challenge for the title," Vidic said. "It doesn't matter who is out. Manchester United 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. That is why Manchester United are so special."
"We didn't expect the young players would play so many games and have such influence on the team," Vidic said. "This is a great plus for the club.
"Obviously we have had some injuries over the past year, which is another difficult thing we have gone through, but we have coped and been very competitive with Manchester City. Now we are at the top of the league and have a big chance to win it."