When it comes to achieving success in football, a team is always better served if they have a strong defensive foundation to build from.
Much has been made of Manchester United‘s leaky defence this season but they have still managed to remain fighting on three fronts. However now that we are reaching the business end of the season, they will no doubt need to start defending better and the return of their influential captain Nemanja Vidic seems to have already made a difference.
The imposing Serbian centre half arrived at Old Trafford from Spartak Moscow in 2006 and has gone on to become one of the most important players at the club, helping his side to several honours in the process, including four Premier League titles and a Champions League. However his career has been blighted by injury in recent times.
He returned to action two months ago after a lengthy 13 month lay-off which saw him barely featuring for Sir Alex Fergusons men. His absence showed in the first half of the season as United conceded 23 goals in 16 games in the league before his return, a staggering amount by their usual standards. Since his return the side have conceded eight in the last 10 which is a significant improvement. Vidic hasn’t featured in all of those games so it could be argued that the improvement has just been a coincidence rather than because of him. The likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have also returned to the squad in the same period of time and they have certainly made a difference as well.
The reason I am highlighting Vidic though, is because many people including myself doubted whether he would be able to return and be the same commanding presence that he was before his serious injury problems. Some people even suggested it may be the right time to cash in on him at the age of 31-years-old and blood the younger players through. Although Vidic may not be able to recapture the kind of form that had him regarded as arguably the best centre back in Europe, he is looking better with each game and like he can certainly at least get close to that level again if he steers clear of injury.
I personally think if he can remain fit then he still has a key role to play at United for several reasons. Leadership in defence is key and he has the ability to do that like no other at the club. The rest of the back four as well as David de Gea in goal seem more confident with him in the side. I think Vidic can help the young Spanish keeper who has had a difficult time since arriving in Manchester, in his development. I feel the likes of Smalling, Evans, and Jones will also benefit from training and playing with him.
His experience is also extremely important, particularly with Rio Ferdinand’s future after this season still up in the air. As impressive as Evans has progressed over the last season, it would be a risk to leave him as the leading centre half. In my opinion Vidic and Evans looks an excellent partnership, and one which could serve them well as a first choice pairing next season, as displayed in the victory over Everton on Sunday. The Serbians brute force and no nonsense style along with the young Northen Irishman’s more measured approach and ability to play from the back compliments each other well.
The Red Devils have aspirations of repeating the glorious feat of the 1999 Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup treble. While this will be difficult regardless of who plays, if their captain is able to continue his return to his best form then it will certainly stand them in better stead, particularly in Europe where I feel their biggest challenge lies.