The key to United’s title challenge lies at the back

Apart from the heated confrontation exchanged by Rafael and Carlos Tevez, there was little to savour from the Manchester Derby on Wednesday night as both teams offered very little in the final third. It was, however, encouraging to see United’s back four restore their solidarity of past seasons.

Nemanja Vidic was particularly impressive that night, with a near flawless-performance that included five tackles, three interceptions and seven clearances. It was worthy of a bottle of bubbly – that was even being said before the interval. Whilst, admittedly, the result itself wasn’t great but, excuse the usual optimism, things are looking up.

Without Ferdinand or Vidic: 12 games – 14 goals (1.7 goals conceded a game)
With Ferdinand and Vidic: 7 games – 4 goals (0.6 goals conceded)

*In all competitions

It’s no surprise that with the return of both Vidic and Rio Ferdinand as a central defensive partnership, United have conceded far less. And the thought of losing either (again) to suspension, and touch wood, injury would potentially be damaging to Manchester United’s title bid. That’s not to say that Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling aren’t good enough to act as cover, but they haven’t quite been able to form a partnership of such quality, may that be because they’re just inexperienced or just haven’t played enough games on the bounce to do so.

Patrice Evra has slowly emerged after a disappointing star to the season where he obviously looked jaded from a long and frustrating summer in South Africa. Rafael deserves credit too, not least because he stood up to Carlos Tevez on Wednesday night much to the delight of the travelling red contingent. Yet it is often said that central defenders earn little praise for match-saving performances while their counterparts up front get all the plaudits; but if United were to be crowned Champions come May 2011, it probably will be largely because of the work of Vidic and Ferdinand, not that anyone will realise that once Wayne Rooney comes back and bangs in the goals…

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