After the crazy topsy-turvy match on Boxing Day, United resorted to a more calm and controlled match that we’ve seen in previous years instead of the adrenaline-pumping and edge-of-the-seat action that we’ve seen throughout this season. With notable absentees Rafael and Rooney still missing through injury, Robin van Persie and boxing day hero – Javier Hernandez rested, United welcome back Shinji Kagawa – after a long lay-off from a knee injury, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, and skipper Nemanja Vidic back into the starting line-up.
Although it was Robin van Persie who saved United from West Brom’s pressure in the 2nd half through a wonderfully-taken strike, it was the clean sheet that must have pleased Sir Alex and his men most after the last one came against West Ham – 7 games ago and this was mostly due to the return of Vidic. But most importantly, his old self.
After having setbacks to his injury he suffered in the Champions League defeat to Braga back in December 2011, he has returned at the start of the season, but it was discovered that he was playing through the pain. As a result, he was out for another 3 months and have just made his return to the side in the game against Sunderland.
Fast forward 3 games and here he was alongside Jonny Evans – who has been equally impressive and continuing his fine form (read more http://wp.me/p2PrCI-6z). Despite Rio Ferdinand also proving his critics wrong by putting in top-class performances, Vidic brings a unique asset to the team that Rio doesn’t necessarily offer. He is a better header of the ball, although less skilled when playing it on the ground (he only completed 31/42 [74%] passes instead of Ferdinand’s 56/62 [90%] in the previous match), but his organization is his most important characteristic.
The Manchester derby aside, this was one of those only games in which United managed to defend as a unit and repelled against West Brom’s onslaught in the 2nd half. This was a result of Vidic’s organizational skills and leadership qualities that resulted to an organized back-line and a midfield to cover it as well (much like West Brom’s team shape in the 1st half). But credit must be given more to the two center-halves.
Vidic managed to complete 3/4 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 blocks, 12/19 clearances, 7/11 headed clearances, and 7/8 aerial duels. That aerial presence helped United in sustaining pressure in the 1st half and also helped United in achieving the clean sheet in the 2nd. On the other hand, Evans also managed to make 2 blocks, 6/15 clearances, 4/10 headed clearances, and won 6/6 aerial duels.
Having conceded 28 goals half-way through the season, which is more than any other top 10 team and 5 short of the WHOLE of last-season, Sir Alex must be concerned with the goal difference that has been cut enormously despite the fact that they’ve been scoring a lot. He will be hoping for Vidic to continue to return to his best form and that he is wrapped in cotton-wool for the remainder of the season. Robin van Persie may not be the difference between the winners of the title come May. Instead, it may just be Vidic.