Nemanja Vidic is still the man to shore up Manchester United’s suspect defence and strike fear into the hearts of opposition forwards.
The 31-year-old is slowly but surely making a comeback from a series of injuries that saw him only feature nine times in the last 13 months.
The Serbian has seven years under his belt at Old Trafford and his inclusion in the 2009 and 2011 FIFA Team of the Year highlight his capabilities.
Despite topping the Premier League, United’s defensive frailties this season have not gone unnoticed and the Reds have often relied on the goals of Robin van Persie to save them.
In fact, the Red Devils hold the record for the most goals conceded in a championship-winning season – 45 in 1999/00, with 1.18 goals conceded per game.
This season, they are on course to smash that record, having already leaked 28 goals in 21 games and projected to finish the season with 50 goals conceded at 1.33 per game.
And with United’s defence having let in the opening goal on 11 times in the league, Sir Alex Ferguson could use his skipper to tighten up his side.
With Vidic, United have a 73.5% win ratio and concede 0.70 goals per game while they only win 67.7% of games and concede a goal a game without him.
Ferguson has said he will rotate between Vidic and fellow centre-back Rio Ferdinand to partner Jonny Evans, with the Northern Irishman having his best season to date.
The manager’s reasoning behind that is simply to keep both veterans fit highlighting Vidic’s one and only real weakness – injuries.
Understandably, Vidic’s return to first team action has been slow and relatively quiet but, to use the cliché, form is temporary, class is permanent.
His first appearance since September came in December against Sunderland as a substitute but within four minutes of coming on, United conceded.
Vidic made his first start in the following fixture – a 1-1 draw at Swansea City – and critics were quick to pick up on his shaky performance.
It was, however, in the 2-0 win against in-form West Brom where the Vidic of old came through and made more tackles, interceptions and clearances than anyone else.
It was no coincidence that United looked assured in defence with him and the club captain helped his side achieve only their fourth clean sheet of the season.
After the game, Vidic admitted he still had a long way to go to get back to his best, estimating a recovery time of up to three months before he reached top form.
His importance to the club has not been underestimated by staff, with Ryan Giggs labelling him as world class and Ferguson describing him as a ‘warrior.’
Vidic’s return to the first-team foray could be as vital to him as it is for his side, with the defender’s contract expiring at the end of next season.
A fight for the title and the fight for his future – United’s warrior is back and ready to rumble.