Manchester United defender Phil Jones feels the return of team-mate and club captain Nemanja Vidic from his three-month injury has boosted their competitive defensive unit heading into a congested Christmas fixture list in the Premier League.
Vidic has been out for some time for the Old Trafford club, having sat out the majority of last season with a knee injury before suffering another against Galatasaray in September. Jones is happy to see their leader back at the helm and ready to steady them through a busy Christmas schedule.
"It's a fantastic boost for us to have Nemanja back," Jones told reporters. "He's a fantastic player, a great captain and it's important he's back for the busy festive period.
"I enjoy the competition for places, it's great to have a number of players battling for the same position.
"It keeps people on their toes and keeps us fighting for the shirt.
"We see it in training - the sessions are intense, there's a good atmosphere."
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson feels it may take time for Vidic to return to his best but knows his presence alone is just as important to a defence that has conceded more goals tha both title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea so far this season.
"It will take him a bit of time but that is a start," Sir Alex stated.
"He is a warrior and he is our captain. He always battles for you and sticks his head on that ball in the penalty area. That is what he is great at."
United travel to Swansea before hosting Newcastle on Boxing Day, but from then on their fixture list looks rather more straight-forward as they only face Tottenham from last season's top six in their 13 league games leading up to April 6, when they host their cross-town title rivals Manchester City.