Much has been written about who will replace Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United, following the news that the Serbian centre-back will leave at the end of the current campaign.
David Moyes has intimated that he may simply promote from within, with Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all more than able defensive options. While reports have referred to the usual suspects - and in the case of Galatasaray's Semih Kaya - that not-so-usual suspect.
But this is not an article about who will replace Vidic; it is a piece looking at the areas of strength the player must have - be that someone currently at Old Trafford, or one of the likes of Eliaquim Mangala, Ezequiel Garay, or any of the other star-names linked with United in recent times.
As you can see from the table below, Evans is the most effective current United defender when it comes to outfield blocks, while he has given away only one foul in the Premier League to date - a figure bettered only by Rio Ferdinand.
Jones has won the most tackles, while he is also handy when it comes to last-man challenges. But when Vidic leaves, what United will really be lacking - along with his obvious leadership skills and experience - is the ability to effectively clear the ball.
Vidic has cleared the ball 160 times in the league to date; a figure only Evans comes relatively close to matching
|Player||Outfield Block||Won Tackle||Last Man Tackle||Effective Clearance||Fouls||Apps||Mins|
Per game, Vidic's effective clearance stats are almost double those of Jones, and while the England international is seen as a long-term replacement for the current United captain, the former Blackburn man has a lot to learn and a long way to go.
|Player||Outfield Block / Apps||Won Tackle / Apps||Last Man Tackle / Apps||Effective Clearance / Apps||Fouls / Apps||Apps||Mins|
Something Jones does excel in is duels won, but as for aerial battles, Vidic has been successful exactly twice as many times as his young teammate. In fact, Vidic significantly outdoes all his fellow United defenders in that area. So along with the ability to effectively clear the ball, any replacement will also need to be dominant in the air.
|Player||Duel Won||Aerial Won||Interception Won||Accurate Pass||Goals||Apps||Mins|
In the more battle-like elements of defending, Jones and Vidic unsurprisingly stand out. But for Jones to learn - in fact for all three of the younger United defenders to ultimately be ranked among the very best - Moyes needs to bring in an experienced centre-back to continue the development of those around him.
|Player||Duel Won / Apps||Aerial Won / Apps||Interception Won / Apps||Accurate Pass / Apps||Goals / Apps||Apps||Mins|
So whoever Moyes looks to bring in - and I truly believe he will sign at least one new central defender this summer - there are areas he must identify where United will be weak without Vidic.
If he gets it right, and if the new arrivals settle in well, this season could be very much a blip rather than a common occurrence.
image: © nasmac