Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Nemanja Vidic

Clive Mason

We weren't sure what to expect from the captain after his horrific knee injury. By season's end, though, with context considered, it was encouraging to see flashes of his old-self again.

The Busby Babe continues with the fourteenth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is captain Nemanja Vidic.

* Manchester United 2012-13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

In December of 2011, the captain sustained a horrific knee injury during an infamous night in Basel -- not only had United lost their captain for the remainder of that campaign, but they also failed to advance from the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. That night in Switzerland, along with the two defeats by Manchester City in the Premier League, were the defining moments of a disappointing season. Because of the severity of Vidic's knee injury, many wondered just how much he could contribute this season and if he'd ever be anywhere near his former world-class self. It was expected that the club would be quite cautious with the way they used the then 30-year-old this past season.

What we got

VIDIC


GS (sub)


Avg P


Pass %


LB


LB %


TKL


INT


F


AD %


Prem


18 (1)

41.5

87.4%

4.3

71.3%

1.4

1.8

1.1

66.7%

CL


2

26.5

83.0%

1.5

37.5%

0.0

1.0

2.5

84.6%

* GS = games started (substitution appearances), Avg P = average passes per game, PS% = passing accuracy percentage, LB = accurate long ball per game, LB% = long ball accuracy, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game, F= fouls committed per game, AD% = aerial duels won percentage

With Vidic's knee issues in mind, it was ironic that he was the lone center-back available for selection at the season-opener against Everton because of fitness issues for Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones. The captain -- who at that moment in time hadn't featured in a competitive football match for nine months -- had to partner midfielder Michael Carrick in central-defense and the duo (particularly Carrick) struggled to deal with a physical Marouane Fellaini at Goodison Park.

Vidic continued to feature on a regular basis until he again injured the same problematic knee near the end of September. The Serbian was far from being in poor form during those early-season appearances, but he also didn't quite look like his old dominant self. He wouldn't be seen again until the end of December.

On his second return from a major knee injury, the club took it much slower in introducing him back. As the winter wore on, the steely Serbian started to look stronger and more assured. Sir Alex Ferguson was careful in using his captain and the player admitted that doctors closely monitored him and had to strictly clear him before each and every match that he was considered for. Vidic also revealed that he still felt some pain at times in his knee. Nonetheless, he was wisely rationed by the gaffer and he was generally picked for the most physical of match-ups in the Premier League. For the season's final few months, the center-back was beginning to look increasingly like his world-class former self -- on his day late in the season, one could reasonably argue that there wasn't a better central-defender in England. And perhaps most importantly, there were no new knee concners as he appeared to have been well-managed for the season's latter half.

In that latter half of the season, Vidic did what he does best: he eagerly came out and viciously challenged for anything aerially (and generally came out on top) while he resumed his incredible understanding with Rio. Even beyond his partnership with the Englishman, the Serbian has shown a good understanding and ability to organize with any other center-back that he's paired with -- particularly Smalling, and Evans to an extent. Vida is rightfully lauded for his physical dominance, but he's an incredibly cerebral defender as well. His positioning, or that of his partner's if the captain decides to make an aggressive challenge, is typically assured because of the collective understanding. The Serbian is rightfully lauded for winning maverick challenges but it's surely not a coincidence that his partner is usually in a covering position.

Overall, with context considered, it was a successful season for Vidic. He certainly struggled with his knee in the season's former half, but he was a boss again in the latter half while the club carefully took care of him. It's not even unreasonable to argue that he, on his day, was once again the Premier League's best defender. Vida is obviously a great player, but he has a flaw that was obvious even in his younger and healthier days -- his pace and ability to defend on the turn. United don't play with a high-line often so this is rarely exposed. The captain's return, though, especially in the spring, has exhibited no new signs of any other obvious weaknesses. This season went incredibly well for the now 31-year-old with all things considered.

What's next?

It's funny -- Vidic is a young-ish 'old player'. He's only just turned 31-years-old, and yet, many like to lump him in with the 34-year-old Ferdinand. I suppose, to an extent, that makes sense when considering the captain's serious knee issues. He does, though, have two years remaining on his current contract so next season is obviously key for him if desires a relatively long future at United -- the medical staff will either deem him a low-risk for a multi-year contract or he'll go on a rolling one-year deal after being assessed each season. The latter scenario seems more likely. And it's hard to believe that he would be sold because his marginal market value would be much less than his upside to the club if he can stay healthy.

For the time being, United seem to have a good balance in central-defense by having two old stalwarts in Rio and Vida -- both of whom are still very good players -- backed up by quality young talents in Evans, Jones, and Smalling. There's been some odd transfer speculation as of late about bringing in another central-defender, but the reality of the situation is that it makes more sense to spend money elsewhere this summer while the club would be prudent to re-assess their central-defense in January or next summer.

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