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Who will step up for Manchester United when Vidic departs?

The Serbian central defender has announced his plans to leave the club at the end of the season but the team can find a successor from within.

Manchester United's hunt for defensive reinforcements intensified on Friday after Nemanja Vidic's announcement he will leave the club at the season's end.

And the latest rumours suggest the Serb's departure will not be the only alteration to an ageing United backline this summer, with Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra also set to leave.

It all points to a mass overhaul at the back in the close season for David Moyes, Ed Woodward and the club's scouting department, with just three other centre-backs on the books, plus the young Michael Keane, who recently returned from an unsuccessful loan spell at Derby County.

The likelihood of Keane fast-tracking his way into a starting XI role is slim and, naturally, Moyes will seek to add the leadership and experience which has been torn from the heart of his defence.

But equally, when Moyes and his negotiators assemble their shortlist, they will have to assess the current crop and the quality they have to offer. Given the season United are being made to endure, there appears very little to cheer about from the defensive deputies, but there are consolations to be found once you delve under the surface.

It should be taken into account that there is a considerable caveat to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling's performance across their defensive offerings. The duo have both operated largely as utility men this season for Moyes, plugging round holes with the former attempting to solve the defensive midfield conundrum and the latter filling in at right-back.

Jones has also had his fair share of appearances on the right-hand side of a floundering defence but the statistics stack up firmly in the duo's favour, and does little to depict Jonny Evans in a similar light.

Evans has actually made the most errors leading to goals per appearance this season (0.13), with Smalling posting 0.06 and Jones' record reads completely unblemished with no direct errors.

There have been suggestions in some quarters Evans could be the man to herald a new dawn at Old Trafford but he is equally left in the shadow by his central defensive contemporaries when it comes to winning duels. 

Evans registers an average duels won of 4.06 from his 16 appearances, with Jones - who has made the same amount - making 6.13.

His anchoring capacity in United's midfield engine room means he is amidst the action more than the Northern Irishman but when you factor in Chris Smalling's 4.82 per game, it epitomises the drop in standards which has been allowed to engulf a toiling United team, in particular a defender who looks increasingly lost without a Ferdinand or a Vidic by his side.

It's not all doom and gloom for Evans, however. He is actually the most successful of the triumvirate when it comes to win percentage. With what he lacks in total tackles attempted (1.13 per game), he more than makes up with in the tackles he wins (1.00), working out at an average of 89%.

Smalling particularly flounders in this department, with a success rate of just 67% (1.18) from his 1.76 attempted in each match. Jones fares slightly better but perhaps not adequate enough given one of his primary responsibilities is to shackle before offloading to the more fleet-footed members of the United midfield.

Attempting 2.5 tackles per game, Jones wins 1.94, working out at an average of 78%. But Evans also excels in another area of his game. He may not win the most duels, but he loses the least, giving him the most success amongst his peers - and now undoubtedly rivals - as each look to usurp one another in the race to become United's defensive lynchpin.

It's widely expected Moyes will make one elite addition to partner one of these three in his first-choice partnership so Evans does himself no harm with a 79% success rate, usurping the tallies of Smalling (67%) and Jones (58%) respectively.

It's perhaps not as clear cut as Moyes would like it. Smalling portrays a steady uncompromising but hardly inspirational character, Evans' errors have been amplified and should not detract from his true worth while Jones' positional uncertainty has undoubtedly taken its toil.

There are decisions to be made in the months to come, and earmarking one of this trio as his standout centre-back is a key one for Moyes and United.

NameTeamPosError Lead To Goal / appsTotal Tackle / appsWon Tackle / appsDuel Won / appsDuel Lost / appsAppsMins
Jonny Evans Man Utd DF 0.13 1.13 1.00 4.06 1.06 16 1,316
Chris Smalling Man Utd DF 0.06 1.76 1.18 4.82 2.35 17 1,218
Phil Jones Man Utd DF 0 2.50 1.94 6.13 4.50 16 1,342

image: © nasmac

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