Tentative Vidić poses defensive selection dilemma

As the second half of the season gets underway, the once fearless Nemanja Vidić is now tentative about his return to full time action for the Reds. The Serbian defender has endured a frustrating time since originally injuring his right knee against FC Basel in December 2011 in what has proven to an an incredibly unlucky injury for player and club.

Back then the Serbian was caught in a tangle with Basel striker Marco Streller, and tore not only his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but also the medial and lateral collateral ligaments (MCL and LCL) too. To underline the defender’s poor luck, it is extremely rare for a player to tear the lateral and medial ligaments together due to the forces required to damage both structures at the same time.

Vidić then required further surgery early this season to repair damage to the meniscus after experiencing problems in training, thus completing ‘the unhappy triad’ of tears to the ACL, MCL and medial meniscus, three structures in the knee that are commonly damaged in professional athletes.

The defender’s surgery in September 2012 came shortly after the player had claimed that his knee was “in perfect condition” and that the partnership with Rio Ferdinand could once again be “the best in the Premier League”. Surgery proved to be huge blow to United, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson having become too familiar with defensive injury crises over the last four seasons.

Vidić returned on 15 December when the player made a late entry as a substitute against Sunderland, but is yet to pair up again with Ferdinand. The duo has created a formidable partnership over recent years, but injuries and age beg the question whether they will be able to regularly play together again in future?

After all, Vidić will now be wary of returning too early, with the consequences severe. United’s coaches already seem to be adapting the player’s first team involvement. The Serbian also says that he is now consulting with doctors before each game after suffering an adverse reaction following United’s match with Swansea City. In fact the player isn’t nearly as confident as he once was about his knee.

“The doctor is managing the games [I play],” said the Serbian. “Over the first two or three months I have to really look at the games I can play because sometimes I might have a reaction. This is a process I have to go through. I am glad I have managed to play after three months. It is nice to be on the pitch and playing games.”

Having been troubled for over a year, injury is now bound to have an impact not just physically, but psychologically on the tough 31-year-old defender, particularly after apparently being rushed back too soon last Autumn. Vidić will know that the risk of re-injury is a lot higher in players who have previously torn knee ligaments.

Furthermore, having been so unlucky in damaging the LCL, Vidić will be wary of his own personal fragility. It is debatable whether the player will ever regain the form of old.

To that point, a recent JUMP-ACL study looked at risk factors for ACL tears and provided some interesting findings, including the fact that certain body positions in relation to the ground, and postures such as hip flexion, are strongly associated with this damage.

This research is particularly interesting when you consider the stances adopted by players when engaged in defending – typically bent forward with knees and hips flexed to lower the centre of gravity in preparation to spring forward and intercept.

Vidić may also be wary of bending his damaged knee too far for fear of tearing the repaired meniscus again, and of sharp cutting maneuvers that can result in twisting the joint and threatening re-injury to the collateral ligaments.

The waterlogged pitch at Old Trafford against West Bromwich Albion on 29 December, which underwent a pitch inspection by officials, will no doubt have been a red flag for a player fearful of re-injuring old wounds. And over the Christmas period Sir Alex Ferguson rotated Vidić and Ferdinand by partnering one or the other with Jonny Evans.

During its peak, the reliable Vidić-Ferdinand partnership allowed one central defender to roam forward, knowing that the other would hold back and provide cover if an attack broke down.

However, with question marks hanging over the pace and agility of the ageing duo, it may now be sensible to play only one of them, along with Evans. The Reds are in a fortunate position to have all defenders back in contention while Vidić makes his gradual return to action.

But after a tumultuous first half of the season – defensively at least – Ferguson may also want consistency in his back four, posing interesting selection question in defence following two clean sheets on the run and with Real Madrid not too far off on the horizon.

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Comments

  1. Stevie D says

    After 2 clean sheets in a row, our first back to back clean sheets this season in the PL….we don’t need him back!!

    • CoombesOn says

      Vida played in one of those (v. West Brom) and was rather impressive. A little sluggish no doubt but made a series of timely interventions with head and boot alike. He’s still by far and away the best defensive header of the ball we have (something we’ve missed massively on occasion this season – Reading away being a great example). And no one else marshals the back 4 quite like him. Watching that game, he was constantly barking instructions and maintaining order across the line.

      So he definitely still has a role to play. Hopefully (as per Liz’s great article) they can bring him back into the fold in a way that doesn’t break him again and enables him to rebuild confidence in his body. Though only time will tell, they did manage to achieve this with Valencia after his leg break (even if he has now gone completely off the boil – though he seems to have lost confidence in his ability rather than his body)

      On a separate note, really like the sport science slant of this article. The Rant continues to offer a unique and fascinating insight into all things United. Thanks all.

  2. Philip Gatt says

    Excellent post that highlights United’s ‘problems’ at the back.

    Would be excellent to see the Vidić/Ferdinand partnership back to its best, but age and injuries might dictate otherwise.

    As someone who always said that Evans is at his best when partnered with one of the two, I’m glad that he’s coming to the fore by default, and hope he’ll be able to take the mantle of leading the team from the back in the future.

    Well done on a very good article.

  3. marlon says

    Problem with Evans/Rio is that they a both the same kind of player – better with the ball than without. It would help them both to be paired with a more natural defender like Vidic or Smalling. I never realised quite how bad his knee was before reading this though. Not at all confident he’ll be back to his best.

  4. Gopher Brown says

    While he is still lacking in fitness and doubts remain over his injuries no-one would buy Vidic, and he is still under contract until the end of next season, which essentially gives us time to get him right again.

    He’s only 31 and could feasibly have another 4 or 5 years of playing ahead of him if he can stay fit. As we’ve seen with Rio, it’s not impossible to go through some pretty heavy injury problems in your early thirties and recover to play most weeks.

    The debate is whether Rio is kept at the end of the season and/or we sign another centre back or promote Michael Keane to the squad. Long-term we’re alright in that position with two from Smalling, Jones and Evans playing.

  5. aaron macarthy says

    What Vidic offered and still offers us was a the closest thing we had the nasty player since Keane left. Rio and Evans do look good but surely we could do with one of them being paired with a really nasty bastard? and since the closest thing to them in the team is Vidic doesn’t he get top billing over either of them?

  6. Miguel says

    If the doctors can manage his time on the pitch carefully and he doesn’t get injured again this year, i think he will come back fitter and stronger next season. I remember when Scholes was out for that long stretch, everyone was talking about how he was never the same player after that, then all of a sudden his form and fitness picked up and he was playing his best football again. What Vidic needs is time and patience and he will come back stronger than ever. in the meantime United will have to do with conceding a few.

  7. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    was obviously different with scholes though, wasnt his fitness was his sight, apart from that it was just a long rest for him and so he came back and played his best ever football

    wont be the case with vidic clearly

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