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Three key men

"The backbone trio of David De Gea, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand has underpinned United’s dramatic rise to the top of the Barclays Premier League..."

- ManUtd.com's Mark Froggatt

07/04/2012 10:07, Report by Mark Froggatt
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Blog: United's trio of steel

Vidic, the new options provided by Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, and his own misfortune - a sending off in the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City.

Not form but fitness was the concern for the veteran amongst the three, with Ferdinand's injury battles fuelling whispers that his time as one the world’s great defenders was coming to an end.

"Rio is almost 33 and has obviously lost the yard of pace he had five years ago," stated Sir Alex in November. "He has to tailor his game a different way. He cannot rely on his pace any more. That is obvious."

Fast forward to April and the then-troubled threesome is now the spine to all of United’s title-chasing endeavours. With De Gea, Evans and Ferdinand at its heart, the Reds' defence has conceded just six goals in the past eight league outings and is showing no sign of cracking up.

Evans has visibly grown in stature and carries the demeanour of a man determined to succeed. The Northern Irishman even bagged his first professional goal in the 5-0 rout of Wolves, before claiming his maiden ManUtd.com Player of the Month award for March.

"When I think back to the time when so many critics were ready for me to move Evans on, I hope they're questioning their judgement because the boy has been in sure form lately," wrote Sir Alex in his United Review column.

At full-time at Ewood Park on Monday, United's goalkeeping coach Eric Steele embraced De Gea. His home and away displays against Rovers could hardly have been more contrasting and both student and teacher knew it. Was this a true turning point in the stopper's career?

Of course, you cannot compare to the aforementioned greats until excellence has been maintained for a number of years. And with the continued development of prospects Phil Jones and Chris Smalling,

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