Manchester United vs. West Brom: Why Nemanja Vidic Was the Key Player

Terry CarrollContributor IIIDecember 30, 2012

VidicClive Mason/Getty Images

Considering his careful rehabilitation, Manchester United vs. West Brom was the perfect medium to cement Nemanja Vidic's return to full match fitness.

And didn't he just show us all what United have been missing?

This was always going to be a tough match for United. Steve Clarke has got West Brom very well organised and energetic all across the pitch.

And this is an interesting point. You have Brendan Rodgers saying it will take time to turn Liverpool round. 

You have Arsene Wenger making a catalogue of signings in the last couple of years, desperately looking for a winning formula. (One 7-3 win against a shattered Newcastle team with nine first-choice players missing doesn't count.)

And you have Roberto Mancini saying his players are tired. So OK, Manchester City have had six Champions League matches to contend with. But let's look at the facts.

City have 40 players registered for their first-team squad; West Brom have 30. But how many members of the former squad can you name off the top of your head, compared to the Midlanders? How many world-class players does Steve Clarke have at his disposal?


Some Supporters Are Never Satisfied

Yesterday at Old Trafford there were loads of people baying for United players to "use the ****** thing," or "get it up the pitch," or "pass the thing," etc.

And the latter is exactly what the United players did for much of the first half. But nobody was giving any credit to the fact that West Brom were leaving them very few options to play to. In fact, at any one time, there was normally no more than one player free and only by moving into space.

As the game wore on, some players were tempted to try and speed things up by launching speculative passes to try to find space in front of Welbeck and Kagawa. Most of those were gobbled by the opposition defence.

If anything, United were light in numbers up front for much of the match until Van Persie came on. Kagawa had an excellent game for his first back after weeks of injury. But to see him back behind even Carrick to collect the ball illustrated how difficult it was to penetrate the Baggies.

So then some people will say that United lacked ideas or invention. In this respect Kagawa showed us glimpses of how effective United will be in future when they play a full team. There was some breathtakingly quick inter-passing, and time and again Kagawa particularly wriggled into space in the corner of the box, but the West Brom defence held firm.


A Satisfactory Performance

You'd have to be hard to criticise United's performance yesterday. Everyone worked his socks off. West Brom hardly had a single shot in the first half. United had no luck whatsoever in the opposition box, with the exception of Young's deflected own goal.

Ben Foster showed glimpses of what he could have been, both in a couple of stunning saves and a blunder that nearly gifted Danny Welbeck a goal.

Indeed, if there was a weakness, it was in Welbeck. He looked rusty. To be fair to him, he should be commended for the times that he won the ball back, but his first touch was sometimes uncertain. And he still has the irritating habit of being blinkered when heading for goal.

Kagawa showed us plenty of examples of how good he can be, but United were lacking that touch of class in front of goal which could have produced an entirely reasonable 4-0 win.


A Clean Sheet at Last

This was only United's third clean sheet of the season. And the reason? Nemanja Vidic.

It is not just that he won almost everything in the air. His legs carried him further and faster than his previous match. But Shane Long is a dangerous character who caused no end of problems in the equivalent fixture last year. This year Vidic kept him shackled.

The most important facet of Vidic's play, however, was his calm authority. Suddenly the defence looked watertight, despite a growing wave of attacks from the Baggies in the second half. 

Indeed, the whole team had a calmness for the first half especially. You can allow Vidic the tolerance of speculative punts upfield because he is the captain. They weren't very effective.

But when you ally his calmness to that Michael Carrick, you have a performance that will have pleased the Boss, despite being nerve-wracking until Van Persie scored.

To put it in context, United had made five changes from the team that crept past Newcastle. There was no Rooney or Van Persie, or Chicharito for that matter.

Welbeck was starting his first match for over a month, Kagawa for two months, and Young was back from injury.

Above all, the defence was composed for once, despite the occasional glitch from Smalling. That must be put down to Vidic, and it augurs well for the rest of the season.

With a seven-point lead and scoring goals for fun, United's nearest challengers will above all fear more defensive solidity for the Red Devils going into the New Year.


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