The player that turns United from contenders to champions

A lot was made of the comparatively poor form of certain members of Man Utd’s defence last season. They ended the Premier League season having conceded 33 goals, the average for the five preceding seasons was 27, whilst Patrice Evra lost his place in the starting line up of the national side and Rio Ferdinand was omitted from England’s squad completely.

There are a number of contributing factors that could be taken in to consideration when attempting to explain the situation. For example, David De Gea’s first season was far from ideal and the lack of an established defensive midfielder meant that the defence was not as well protected as it could have been.

No issue, though, could be as relevant as the injury to United’s captain, a player who has been one of the most impressive central defenders in world football for the last five years – Nemanja Vidic.

Vidic, who sustained a calf injury against West Brom on the opening day of the season, didn’t play a full 90 minutes of Premier League football for Ferguson’s side until they played Everton at the end of October.

Before suffering his season-ending knee injury in December, Vidic helped United to clean sheets against Everton, Otelul galati, Sunderland, Swansea and Aston Villa (they only conceded in the game against Newcastle because of a contentious penalty for a Ferdinand foul).

Taking statistics from every single game in which Vidic played some part last season the average amount of goals conceded per game was 0.8. If you work out the same average for every single competitive game that he was not involved in it works out at 1.06.

That might not seem like a huge difference but if, over the course of a season, you concede less than a goal per game in every competition it could well be the difference between winning trophies and losing them.

This, of course, is particularly painful for United fans as even if Vidic’s presence in the side hadn’t won them any more points, which it would have done, they surely would have conceded fewer goals. Subsequently, losing the title on goal difference may not have happened at all.

You also have to question whether United would have lost 6-1 to their rivals, or 3-2 to Blackburn, or let that two goal lead slip against Everton in April if Vidic had been playing.

To make the argument that United deserved to win the title but were robbed by Vidic’s injury is to miss the point. Every team has injuries; every team has unfortunate episodes throughout the course of the season and how well the club deals with such issues is all part of being a strong team.

However, the argument that can be made is that keeping him fit could be crucial to United’s efforts to regain the Premier League crown next season.

Whatever the reasons for Ferdinand’s omission from the national squad it is undeniable that, as a player, he is in decline. Even Alex Ferguson suggested recently that Ferdinand would have to adapt to his physical demise. Evra’s form too has suffered of late. For a player whose performances are usually characterised by consistent quality, Evra, whilst still good, is not what he once was.

The other argument could be, and it is something that is definitely worth considering, is that maybe Evra and Ferdinand just look better when they’re playing next to the Serbia international.

Either way, his return is imperative for United. It is no coincidence that, since his arrival at the club, the only season in which United has not lifted a trophy is the season in which Vidic spent over 80% of the campaign out injured. It is also the only season in which United have not progressed from the group stages of the Champions League since his arrival at the club.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that Manchester United are a one man team; what I’m suggesting is that in a defence with the De Gea, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra and Vidic, only Vidic s in the prime of his career. United have a decent enough defence but without Vidic they’re not a title winning back-line.

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