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Manchester United's captain is expected to return to action this weekend and with the busy festive period around the corner, we discuss his timely recovery.

 Brendon Netto
 Comment |England
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For Manchester United’s fan following, Sir Alex Ferguson’s statement that Nemanja Vidic will indeed feature in their weekend fixture against Sunderland would have been music to their ears. United’s skipper returns from a three-month absence induced by injury and in a campaign where his side have uncontrollably conceded goals, his services have been sorely missed.

Ever since he established himself in United’s first team, Vidic has drawn plenty of praise for his aggressive, no-nonsense approach to defending. United could certainly have done with such an uncompromising style this season.

The most crucial aspect of the Serbian international’s return will be the timing of it. Nearly halfway through the season, the Red Devils find themselves six points clear at the top of the Premier League and into the knockout stages of the Champions League as group winners. If they can string together a good run of results during this hectic Christmas period, they would put themselves in a fantastic position to secure some more silverware this season.

MAXIMUM POINTS?
Man United's upcoming fixtures
Dec 15
Sunderland (H)
Dec 23
Swansea City (A)
Dec 26
Newcastle United (H)
Dec 29
West Bromwich Albion (H)
Jan 01
Wigan Athletic (A)

Sir Alex will look at their next five league fixtures between now and New Year’s day and aim to secure at least 13 points, if not all 15. Defending Premier League champions, Manchester City have a similar run of games during that period and it’s vital that United don’t allow them to catch up with them at this juncture especially having recently pulled away.

Their cross-town rivals have an advantage in the domestic circuit since they are no longer playing a part in Europe. Roberto Mancini’s men can focus on their domestic commitments while United will be distracted by their European exploits from February onward. To allow for some leeway when those European fixtures do come around, it’s essential to United’s title-charge that they maintain if not extend their lead during this period.

The one facet of United’s game this season that has been very encouraging is their irresistible ability to score goals. With the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie firing on all cylinders, it’s abundantly clear that United will nearly always be able to find a route to goal. The problem however lies at the other end of the field. Hence, if they can shore things up at the back, there’s no reason why they can’t take full advantage of this run of games. That’s where their captain comes into play.

Vidic’s first full season at United was during the 2006-07 season in which he established himself as a regular and helped the team win the league. He emerged as an integral part of the first team in the following season and started every league game in the next in which he was largely credited for United’s record run of 14 consecutive clean sheets.

His bravery among other characteristics have seen him likened to former United defender, Steve Bruce. It’s that kind of commanding presence in defence that United have lacked this season. An aging Rio Ferdinand has had an average season so far, poor in some games but fairly accomplished in others. His lack of pace has been a notable drawback of his at times and he can be a liability against the more mobile forwards; although his experience and ability to read the game has been his saving grace.

Nevertheless, Ferdinand doesn’t quite handle the aerial threats as well as Vidic and certainly isn’t capable of playing more than a game a week on a regular basis. Their away performance against Reading on the 1st of this month immediately comes to mind when they conceded three goals from aerial deliveries before the first half hour.

Jonny Evans has been a mainstay in United’s central defence this season but the returns of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling means that Ferguson has a few options when picking a centre-back to partner Vidic. At one point in time, Ferdinand and Vidic were the most formidable central defensive partnership in club football but the former is far from his prime and may no longer be considered first-choice once the rest of the centre-backs are all match fit.

Above all, Vidic restores stability and composure to the United back line. Every time an aerial ball finds its way into United’s penalty area, chances are that Vidic will be the one heading it back out. He attacks the ball like no other and sticks close to his man, drawing him into a physical battle rather than one of skill. His mere presence should give United’s defence a lift in itself and offer assurance to the players ahead to create chances and score goals without constantly looking nervously over their shoulder at a fragile back four. 15 points are up for grabs in a short interval of time and given that this is normally the juncture where United seem to find their stride, who better to propel them forward than their captain himself?

How crucial is Vidic's return to United as this point in time? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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