There are very few players who have proved to be irreplaceable at Manchester United over the years but Nemanja Vidic is certainly one. Since getting injured in his club’s opening Premier League game of the season his presence has been sorely missed and it was again highlighted at Anfield this weekend.
The colossal Serbian defender has established himself as the best defender in the country and has been instrumental in United’s recent success. His no nonsense style of defending has earned plaudits from every corner of the football world over the last few years. Although United certainly have strength in depth at centre back it is their captain who gives them the assuredness at the back that is required of a side competing for major honours.
With the increasingly unreliable Rio Ferdinand seemingly destined for a premature retirement due to continual injury the manager Sir Alex Ferguson has added Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to bolster his options. With these two England internationals learning from Ferdinand and Vidic the belief is that they will develop into top class centre backs. However, both are still someway short of being able to look after United’s defensive duties against some of the best sides in Europe. The return to form of Jonny Evans has certainly helped but the absence of Vidic is very noticeable.
Although we are still at an early stage in the season it has been alarming to see the amount of pressure United have had to endure against inferior opposition. The doubts surrounding their new goalkeeper David de Gea have certainly added to the surprising stat that they have conceded the most shots in the entire league thus far this season. However, it is the lack of pressure being applied by the centre backs that have contributed hugely to this. Rio Ferdinand is no longer able to move effectively round the pitch on a consistent basis. Jonny Evans, the mainstay so far, needs continuity in a partner to help him develop into a commanding presence. Jones and Smalling have both impressed in some games but need more time to hone their defensive qualities.
During the Champions League final last May Barcelona exposed the fact that United desperately need a solid defensive midfielder to shield their back four and this has still not been properly addressed. It is an essential position in the modern game and when playing against sides who can retain possession in the final third it is essential. On Saturday Liverpool were able to keep the ball in dangerous places far too easily and it should have cost them the game. A run from Charlie Adam took him straight through the middle of the United midfield and then straight at Ferdinand. The England defender brought him down for the free kick which lead to the goal; the reigning champions had not learnt from the first half when Adam had done exactly the same before Suarez was denied by De Gea.
Most centre backs are not fantastically quick and rely on good positioning rather than speed. Vidic is a prime example of this; it is his blocking and physical attributes that make him such a good defender. Similar to many of the top defenders over the last few decades, Cannavaro, Nesta, Puyol, Thuram etc he does live on the edge of the law. Most top defenders always skirt on the line of foul play; tugging shirts, holding shirts and sometimes even out right fouling to stop their opponent; the black arts of defending basically.
There have been rumblings for a couple of years now that Mrs Vidic is not happy in Manchester and would like to relocate. Whilst Ferguson has strengthened his defensive options it is something he can ill afford to do on current evidence. The Serb was integral in United’s success last season and has been sorely missed already this season. It seems foolhardy to use the term irreplaceable for a side as successful as United but Vidic is as close as they come.