Juan Mata and Chris Smalling may be Manchester United's men of the moment. Along with Daley Blind, who sends balls forward with the accuracy of a top NFL quarterback, they're the three United players who've started all 12 games so far this season. Louis van Gaal likes to play his strongest team in every game. Mata and Smalling again competed for the man of the match award as United beat Wolfsburg to register a fourth successive win and pick up their first Champions League points. While the football isn't vintage and Van Gaal admits there's significant room for improvement, it's also five wins from six since David De Gea returned.
Van Gaal joked that he would celebrate if De Gea scored against Wolfsburg, but while goalkeepers' goals are rare, United have started scoring since he returned to the fold after being linked with a move back to Spain all summer. From 0.75 goals in their first four league games, United have scored three times each time De Gea has played in the league, plus another three versus Ipswich and twice against Wolfsburg. Anthony Martial and Mata, in particular, will rightly get credit, but De Gea's return has improved the confidence of those in front. Those players now know they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world behind them and the Madrileno has sprung back to form like he's never been away. That the Spaniard is still at Old Trafford has been one of the biggest boosts for United and he appeared utterly untroubled by the circus around him.
"His personality helps him deal with these situations," Juan Mata told me last Friday at the Carrington ground. "He's so laid back that nothing affects him."
A nuclear conflict could kick off in De Gea's back garden and he wouldn't get off the sofa to see what was happening. Even when the media clamoured for his opinion in the summer, he kept smiling and saying nothing. When he was followed back to his car by paparazzi for 15 minutes after visiting a Madrid cinema with his girlfriend, he didn't lose his cool. When he was doorstepped by compatriots from the Spanish media in Manchester, he smiled and said nothing.
In training, De Gea never lost his professionalism, never sulked when he felt things weren't going his way, never stopped shaking hands with people at United as he'd always done and always does.
His professionalism, even when the club thought he was on his way out, was impeccable. Of course, they wanted him to stay, but it was his right. De Gea had never promised anything that he couldn't keep, never kissed the badge on his chest before putting in a transfer request.
Despite a suggestion to the contrary from his manager, who later backtracked, De Gea was prepared to play every single game for the club to which he's contracted.
De Gea is close to the other Spanish speakers at the club, especially his compatriots. They've had their frustrations too, and the situation surrounding out-of-favour Victor Valdes is a sad one. He's a top-class goalkeeper who has won more honours than anyone else at United, a good person who now sits alone in restaurants in south Manchester when his mates leave to play matches.
There was other collateral damage from De Gea ultimately staying with the club. Sam Johnstone, another fine pro and promising young goalkeeper, should be playing football every week. Instead, he's suited but not booted as he watches from the stands.
De Gea wanted to go to Real Madrid, but Madrid's behaviour was curious towards a player they were so keen on signing. United think a poll in Marca a day before the transfer window closed which showed overwhelming support for Keylor Navas spooked president Florentino Perez. Whatever they say, Madrid certainly didn't go all out to get De Gea.
De Gea was understandably bruised by the whole affair when the deal didn't go through. One minute he was going home to his friends, family and girlfriend; the next he was staying in Manchester.
He's got good friends and family around him. And despite his stellar rise, keeping the same close circle around you can insulate the best players from the lies, deceit and horse trading which goes on in football.
De Gea and his family are no strangers to the other side of the sport. Rewind to the summer of 2009 when he was 18 and had spent his first season as Atletico Madrid's B team goalkeeper. Atletico habitually loan their best young players out and there were two offers for Spain's under-19 goalkeeper: from Queens Park Rangers and Numancia.
Jesus Garcia Pitarch, Atletico's sporting director, blocked the QPR approach and pushed De Gea toward Numancia, who'd just been relegated from the Primera Liga. De Gea turned Numancia down, prompting his club to tell him that unless he changed his mind, he'd be training by himself and not playing with the B team. The youngster duly trained alone. The ill feeling between De Gea's family and the club's then-sporting director would linger. A few weeks later, Atletico's coach Abel Resino saw De Gea training and asked "What's he doing by himself?" Resino then called him up to train with the first team and saw his talents on a daily basis.
Again, De Gea did nothing wrong, but he had been given reason to doubt Atletico. He has no such reasons to doubt United. They've always been clear and transparent with him. Have Real Madrid?
De Gea signs contracts and honours them. And because he did nothing wrong, United fans never turned on him. The club were worried about the fan reaction to him ahead of the final home league game of last season against Arsenal. They need not have been. He was cheered then, even when United fans thought he was leaving. And he was cheered on his return against Liverpool.
His future will continue to be discussed, but he's less likely to join Real Madrid than he was a year ago. He's playing in an improving United team; his relationship with Van Gaal and goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek is getting back on track. His relationship with United's executives and his teammates has always been excellent. They have no complaints about him.
Madrid remain a huge factor, but given that they've conceded only one goal in eight games this term and that Keylor Navas is popular, there's hardly a clamour for a new goalkeeper at the Bernabeu. While Navas was prepared to join United, his agent added so many clauses to his contract that it slowed any potential deal down.
De Gea and Navas could still swap sides next year, but as it stands, only a month after De Gea was set to go, he's already settled back in at the club where he's been so impressive. He's got United on his mind; he's got Euro 2016 on his mind for Spain. His next big test is at Arsenal on Sunday, where he was so outstanding last season. He's likely to be needed.