United’s successors to Ferdinand and Vidić prove their worth

Premier League champions Manchester United recorded an invaluable 1-0 win over high-flying Arsenal yesterday, keeping David Moyes’ men well and truly in the title race.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement at the end of last season, the feeling that the Old Trafford outfit are in transition has been overarching.

Despite a new manager at the helm of the Manchester giants, the personnel looks set to be changing too.

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will get the majority of the plaudits for their attacking impetus in the victory over the Gunners, but a stern defensive effort should not be overlooked.

A central defensive partnership between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić has been the cornerstone of the Red Devils’ recent successes, with the pair forming a solid pairing in the heart of the United rearguard since 2006.

However, with both out of contract in the summer and ageing, the experienced campaigners’ time at Old Trafford could well be coming to an end.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja VidićFerdinand’s deterioration has been evident over the last 12 months, with age looking to have finally caught up with the 35-year-old. Vidic, 32, is still a top defender but is yet to extend his deal at the club.

Following an injury to the Serb enforcer in the clash with Arsenal, Phil Jones partnered Jonny Evans in the centre of United’s defence, with the pair putting their case forward for continued inclusion together in the long term.

Northern Ireland international Evans s a product of the club’s youth system, and despite only being 25 it feels that the Belfast-born stalwart has been at Old Trafford for much longer than his seven years in the senior squad.

Evans has always been a reliable performer for United when called upon, but has drifted in and out of the Old Trafford starting line-up. His best return in his career to date was in the 2011-12 campaign, where he started 28 games for the side.

Against Arsenal, Evans was a commanding presence at the back and looked composed in the face of the stellar attacking line-up he was facing. A sensible player, he was always in the right position to deal with crosses and monitored Olivier Giroud well.

Jones has been a victim to his own ability and versatility, as since signing for United from Blackburn in the summer of 2011 he has been used in a number of different positions.

Capable of playing right-back and a useful midfield enforcer, Jones’ second-half performance here once more clarified that his future should be at centre-back.

A natural born leader, the ex-Blackburn defender uses his impressive physical abilities well but his main strength is his presence. He looked like a defender who had forged a career out of dominating opposition strikers on Sunday, not a 21-year-old, and he will only get better.

An honourable mention must also go to Chris Smalling, who put in a competent shift at right-back also. The England man’s best position is probably in the centre of defence, and he has been caught out at full-back on occasion this season. Despite this, Smalling performed well against Arsenal and was certainly worthy of praise.

Should Ferdinand, Vidić or both leave the Old Trafford club at the end of the season there will be a feeling of nostalgia; that it is the end of an era.

However, with United already having impressive ready-made replacements to deputise, the negative impact of experienced players departing should not be overly severe.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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