Even with his squad's defensive future seemingly secured, Sir Alex Ferguson tried to bring Raphael Varane to Old Trafford.
Yet, with the January transfer window just around the corner and David Moyes' team looking rather less resilient as they need to be—especially against their top six rivals—the club's new-year recruitment drive could yet focus on bringing in a number of new faces in defence.
Against Tottenham Hotspur, United's defenders appeared to lack nous as they leapt into the air, allowing Kyle Walker to fire a low shot under their airborne feet.
Earlier in the season, in the humiliating 4-1 defeat against Manchester City, Vidic and Ferdinand appeared leaden-hoofed and utterly impotent against Sergio Aguero and Co., with their lack of pace completely exposed.
Even back in September, BBC Sport's Pat Nevin highlighted how teams were taking advantage of United's defence by targeting and isolating their individual players to disrupt the unit.
With Moyes' Everton sides famous for their sturdiness at the back and hard-to-beat hardiness, the new United manager may seek to harden his team's foundations in January, with the club needing to play it tough in the run-in to stand any chance of taking the title.
Over the next five slides, we'll be looking at the areas of the team's defence that needs the most attention and investment, with a number of potential targets that Moyes would do well to look at in the new year.
Outside of United's horrendously neglected midfield—more on that later—the left-back position is the area of the team most in need of reinforcement.
Back in October, Patrice Evra caused something of a stir when a few vague remarks regarding "personal issues" with his contact renewal were broadcast on French TV and soon interpreted by journalists such as Gordan Tynan of The Independent as a hint that a summer departure would be on the cards.
The Frenchman was quick to respond to the rumours, although his comments—as reported by Sky Sports—were hardly a comprehensive rejection that he would leave once his current deal expires in June:
I haven't seen what people are saying but the thing is if someone wants to talk about my contract, which is ending after this year, they have to talk to Manchester United and with my agent. Me? I love this club so much.
Even if talk of him leaving proves to be false, at the age of 32, Evra's ability to remain an ever-present fixture on the left cannot be taken for granted, and with Moyes seemingly reluctant to play the right-footed Fabio in his favoured position, a high-quality understudy-cum-successor must be secured.
The only other real in-house solution is Alexander Buttner, who is a likely and enthusiastic player but not one who has shown that he has what it takes to supplant Evra as United's main man at left-back.
Who will be in the club's sights come January then? Alan Wilson of the Mirror reports that United are in the race for Alex Sandro of Porto, a player who looks to have all the requisite attacking qualities to fill Evra's role as an explosive, overlapping dribbler and penalty-box threatener.
Southampton's Chelsea-supporting full-back prodigy Luke Shaw could also be an ideal replacement for the French international. Yet the 18-year-old's allegiance to the Blues means that United would have to overcome both Roman Abramovich's chequebook and the player's emotional connection to a rival in order to land him, which seems rather far-fetched.
Should Chelsea choose the Spaniard as the man to take on Ashley Cole's mantle over Shaw, the closing of the doors at Stamford Bridge could open up a path to a blockbuster move to Old Trafford for the Saints youngster.
Leighton Baines is the other very obvious Premier League option, although at the age of 28—and Everton demanding a premium price for their star left-back—the Englishman would be an expensive and ill-fitting solution to replace Evra.
Having arguably replaced Ashley Cole as Roy Hodgson's first choice for England, he is undoubtedly an excellent player, but Baines is a more traditional full-back compared to United's current incumbent, who functions like an auxiliary winger at times down the left flank.
Less equipped to beat opponents one-on-one with trickery, his main strengths are his crossing and ability to support his colleagues in attack.
Yet given his age, relatively muted powers of acceleration, more agricultural dribbling style and comparative lack of flair—not to mention the price Everton will demand for his services—the man who proved himself as Europe's most prolific chance creator last season doesn't look to be a convincing long-term solution.
United's wanted men at left-back
- Alex Sandro—exciting
- Luke Shaw—exclusive
- Leighton Baines—expensive
- Alberto Moreno—expendable
Club captain Vidic is slowing up, growing old and no longer invincible.
Thankfully, his reading of the game is better than ever, meaning that he can usually cover for his lack of pace by anticipating defensive crises and incoming threats before they emerge.
His aerial abilities remain fearsome, as does his determination to marshal his defence into position and keep concentration levels high.
Unfortunately, this managed decline will not last forever, and a sudden downturn in reflexes, sharpness or fitness could be just around the corner.
Evans, Smalling and Jones are by no means lacking physically and can be combative guardians of David de Gea's penalty box when they need to be, but none of United's young centre-backs can hold a torch to their superior, who remains arguably the best stopper in the world when fit.
In the case of Smalling and Jones too, United's central defenders are often required to fill in at right-back and in midfield, leading the squad's apparent strength in depth at the back to be far slimmer than first appearances may suggest.
That may mean that a new face will be required to replace the brawn and brutality of Vidic in the first team.
Surprisingly, there do appear to be options available in the transfer market, although prices will be reassuringly high.
Kurt Zouma is a long-term target for a number of Premier League clubs, including Manchester City and Chelsea.
And with St. Etienne's 19-year-old currently serving a 10-match ban for a horror tackle which left Sochaux’s Thomas Guerbert with a broken leg, as reported by Bob Treasure of the Daily Mail, the French youngster may appreciate an escape route in January, although he wouldn't come cheap given the competition for his signature.
Borussia Dortmund's Neven Subotic is another player who has been linked to the Premier League elite, and United especially over the years, although with the Serbian currently out through injury—and Jurgen Klopp determined to stem the flow of players from his squad—a move in 2014 may be unlikely.
Meanwhile, Sergio Ramos has reportedly been made available for €60 million after falling out with the hierarchy at Real Madrid, according to Marca. The Spaniard can be something of a loose cannon due to the amount of cards he picks up, although he may find that the referees of the Premier League are more tolerant of his style of defending.
A move looks unlikely unless United could come to some sort of arrangement to drastically cut Real's transfer valuation.
Sheffield United's Harry Maguire is the budget option, with the Mirror reporting that the 20-year-old could be available for just £4 million, although he would likely be more of a back-up than a main starter for the club.
The men who could add steel to United's defence
- Kurt Zouma—impressive
- Neven Subotic—injured
- Sergio Ramos—exorbitant
- Harry Maguire—fallback
If question marks are hanging over Vidic's future, then at 35, it could be said that his long-term defensive partner, Ferdinand, is playing on borrowed time.
The veteran defender—United's high-class covering partner to the rugged Serbian stopper—was one of the club's best players last season but has struggled this year as his athleticism and stamina continue to decay with age.
His position as the club's premier ball-playing defender is arguably more in need of replacing than the martial power of Vidic, with Evans perhaps the best-placed alternative to Ferdinand as the club's primary passer out from the back.
Yet while the Northern Irishman is something of a whiz when it comes to firing long diagonal balls to the flanks and distributing the ball forward, Ferdinand remains top dog when it comes to stepping out of defence with the ball at his feet.
Like Evra, his contract also expires in the summer, and it's not yet clear whether he intends to stay on, retire or move elsewhere for one last big payday.
Ezequiel Garay was apparently all set to sign in the summer before Moyes vetoed the move, according to John Drayton of the Daily Mirror, and the skilful Argentinian would have been a decent choice to take on the role of being United's touch of class at the back.
Yet the Benfica and former Madrid defender wasn't the perfect replacement, already lacking pace at the age of 27 and certainly not of the calibre or experience of Ferdinand when it comes to reading the game and managing a back line.
Subotic's Dortmund teammate, Mats Hummels, would likely be high on the list of players fans would like the club to target, but at present, the German may view such a move as a transfer sideways or worse given the uncertainty over United's competitiveness and the level of interest at Europe's other elite clubs.
Returning to Portugal briefly, Porto's Eliaquim Mangala—like Kurt Zouma—looks to be the ideal if expensive option for a long-term solution to refit the first team, although competition for the gifted 22-year-old would also be fierce, as reported by Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express.
Technical defenders worthy of replacing Rio
- Eliaquim Mangala—commanding
- Ezequiel Garay—rejected
- Mats Hummels—unreachable
Defending doesn't stop at a team's defence, and United could instantly tighten up their spine if they were to sign a player able to cover and compete with Michael Carrick in midfield.
Opinions on the Englishman and his role as an interceptor, ball retainer and holding player have flipped from being criminally underrated to blindly overrated of late, with the midfielder's qualities embellished by virtue of a lack of alternatives at United.
Carrick is a very good player but not great, especially in comparison to Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, but his importance to United cannot be overstated and a back-up is desperately needed, preferably one who could develop into a better alternative in the long run.
An understudy to Carrick would need to be comfortable sitting deep in midfield, tactically intelligent and technically assured.
Inter Milan's Croatian prospect, Mateo Kovacic (pictured above with Luka Modric), would be an interesting option, offering greater creativity and initiative through the middle. He has even played as the midfield anchor for his country and would be able to play alongside as well as instead of Carrick as a more dynamic attacking player.
As reported by Ben Burrows of the Daily Mirror, Paris Saint-Germain's Blaise Matuidi is stalling over a new deal with the Parisians, and a precontract deal in January could be a possibility, even though such a move would not fully materialise until the summer.
The Frenchman would be an ideal option to offer Carrick competition as United's safety man in midfield.
Bayer Leverkusen's Lars Bender would be another useful name, although Moyes may be suspicious of his true quality, considering how limp the Bundesliga outfit were in their two encounters with United this year.
Players who could be United's next-generation water carrier
- Mateo Kovacic—artist
- Blaise Matuidi—sentinel
- Lars Bender—undersold
We need to talk about Marouane Fellaini.
The Belgian, who arrived from Everton in the summer for £27.5 million, has so far struggled to make an impression at Old Trafford, but it's not entirely his fault.
While he thrived as the Toffees' midfield everyman, at United, his limitations as a top-level player have been exposed.
However, if Moyes can bring in a player or two to take responsibility for creating chances and adding some technical wizardry to the team's midfield, Fellaini can focus on his strengths as a physically awkward opponent, breaking up play and battling at close quarters with opponents for the ball.
The manager himself admitted he wanted to bring in a total of three midfielders in the summer, as per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian, with his lone signing feeling like the incomplete part of a plan yet to be fully realised.
Unfortunately, overly ambitious and naive plans to snap up Cesc Fabregas, Thiago, Sami Khedira and other leading names failed to come off, and the rest is, as they say, (recent) history.
Any new midfielder would need to represent an upgrade on Tom Cleverley and Anderson as a mobile yet tenacious playmaker, able to link phases of play as well as drive forward to provide a direct threat on goal.
The prospect of signing Athletic Club midfielder Ander Herrera whet the appetites of fans in a frantic yet ultimately futile final day of the summer transfer window.
A combative yet creative player, he looked an ideal option, although the clubs were unable to come to an agreement in time. According to Tre Atkinson of Inside Spanish Football, the Basque is no longer interested in reviving talk of a move and is ready to commit his future to Bilbao, although that could all change come January.
Although not as tenacious as Herrera, Koke is touted as the next Xavi and has been impressive under Diego Simeone following his emergence as a first-team regular for Los Colchoneros.
Derby County's Will Hughes is another starlet who has been linked with United, and although the midfielder is thought to be a Liverpool fan, Manchester Evening News have reported that Brendan Rodgers isn't as interested in the player as the media have suggested.
That could hand Moyes the advantage when it comes to reeling in a player who has been talked about as potentially one of the most talented Englishmen of his generation.
Multitalented midfielders to liberate Fellaini the destroyer
- Ander Herrera—lapsed
- Will Hughes—opportunity