Most casual observers of Premier League football attribute Manchester United's trilogy of consecutive championships to be largely based on an ingredient no longer present: Cristiano Ronaldo.
But it's intellectual evasion to simply attribute anything to just one factor. The current Galactico's emergence into the world class certainly paralleled United's resurgence against Chelsea's brief dominance in the top division, but his influence was not absolute.
Often overlooked—as defenders are—was the capturing of Patty Evra and especially Nemanja Vidic in January of 2006.
Despite each taking time to acclimate to the British game, both Evra's swinging wing play and particularly Vidic's guerilla mentality provided the foundation for players like Ronaldo to get forward with complete abandon.
Then United started winning titles again.
If that trend is to continue, it'll likely be predicated on defense once again.
Unable to rely on that big, red Ronaldo button—the emergency pressure valve, activated after each successful defense, launching marauding counter-attacks—now United are stagnant getting down the field.
Often Wayne Rooney drops deep, sensing need, to spray the ball to the right, and if a cross comes in, it's only Dimitar Berbatov in the middle to fend for himself. Or vice versa, as Berbatov links play, leaving Rooney's considerable head—but small stature—in the center alone. Owen and Rooney together only exacerbates the inefficacy of the tactic.
When once they sprang forward, they now progress more deliberately, making their attack less incisive, their defense more important.
As such, any success in Mancunian parts will be founded again upon a murderin' Vidic with his new partner Jonny Evans.
Rio Ferdinand is mercifully taking ample time to tend to his injuries. He can afford to, already cemented in Fabio Capello's England plans. Therefore, Evans has at least two months of consistent football ahead of him.
In the games he's earned this season and last, the Northern Irishman has proven more than willing and capable to fill Vidic's position in the left of central defense. The right-footed Vidic actually seems more comfortable in Ferdinand's vacated position to the right of Evans.
Just a fortnight ago, against Didier Drogba—formerly Vidic's favored nemesis—Evans cheekily and knowingly stamped the Ivorian's chest in a pugnacious display which brought joy to anyone rooting red, as Vidic himself chuckled on the sideline while Drogba writhed epileptically.
It's the same physical, simple-minded approach that Vidic himself brought to the club in 2006, perpetuating what is now a decade-long dynasty for United.
Each player will have a chance to put their head in where it hurts as United chase Chelsea at the summit. Without Ferdinand, Evans should find a long run of games alongside the fan-favored Serbian.
If Jonny Evans continues to impress fans, pundits, and his manager, while causing our rivals' show ponies to spasm comically, Ferdinand might not be—nor should be—featuring even into the new year, or even well beyond.