Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed Nemanja Vidic will return to action this weekend, as Manchester United welcome Sunderland to Old Trafford.
Vidic has endured a torrid time over the past 12 months; first he damaged ligaments in his knee and upon recovering from that he required further surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. It means that the Serb has made just 16 appearances this and last season, and it has told in our defensive displays.
Giving up the lead against Everton at Old Trafford last season was a nightmare as we drew 4-4 and effectively blew the title, and this season there have been a number of defensive horror shows. Conceding 3 first half goals against Reading is unheard of at a club of United’s stature and constantly conceding first has meant United are really pushing this ‘Comeback Kings’ title.
Clean sheets have become somewhat of a rarity for us, we’ve had just 4 this season with with 2 coming in Vidic’s absence, so it is hoped that in his return United can regain some semblance of defensive composure.
This isn’t a slight on the defenders we have available; Ferdinand has shown time and time again, that despite his age he is still one of the classiest operators in the league, Jonny Evans has pulled a u-turn and gone from a scapegoat to one of the best center backs at the club, Rafael is realising his potential and this season stepped up massively to become, for me, the best right back in the league whilst Patrice Evra has pulled out of the nose dive he has been in for a few seasons to recapture some of the form that made him a staple at left back for us.
But for some reason it isn’t just clicking for us. Of course you take into account that we’ve been playing roulette with our goalkeepers and this is a massive factor in defensive stability but there is something in the way we’ve defended that has changed. Look at the first of Reading’s three goals for example, failure to clear the ball properly, static players etc. So we’ve pinned a lot on the return of the club captain.
But there is an elephant in the room.
It’s been murmured about but never properly addressed, what if nothing changes with Vidic’s return?
When Vidic came back at the start of the season people said he didn’t look the same. He was slimmer, some what less authoritative. Vidic was there for the Southampton win, a game where United had to fight tooth and nail for the 3 points and he was there for the Fulham game where we gifted the London side a second goal.
Of course this can be attributed to the fact he had just returned from 9 months out with a serious injury, it’s very rare that a player comes back from an injury and is able to immediately hit the heights that made him sorely missed in the first place.
So straight away I’m not looking to see the Vidic that marshalled United’s defence in 2010/2011, but I have come to realise there is a strong chance we may never see that Vidic again. With the nature of his injuries, the type of player he is and most importantly his age and the age at which he got injured, it is up in the air whether Vidic will be able to find the form that made him the best defender in Europe.
This isn’t a tragedy though because as shown earlier in the season, even when Vidic doesn’t hit that upper level he is still currently one of the best defenders in the world and his mere presence galvanises the team, but knowing what he is capable of it wound be a tragedy that injury robbed us of that.
This is of course hypothetical (based on logic of course), and there is a chance that Vidic may return to being the titan in defence that we needed and are hoping he can be, if he isn’t United will still cope as we have done so far.
Offence wins games but defence wins titles, and the addition of Vidic will undoubtedly strengthen us at the back regardless of the incarnation that returns. But if it is the Vidic of old, I think we may finally be able to let our fingernails grow back as the nervy and tense performances that have characterised United this season will disappear.