Centre-back starts

Jonny Evans - 19
Rio Ferdinand - 19
Nemanja Vidic - 10
Chris Smalling - 8
Michael Carrick - 4
Phil Jones - 3
Scott Wootton - 3
Michael Keane - 2

Stats refer to all competitions in 2012/2013.

29/01/2013 14:28, Report by Adam Marshall
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Blog: Case for the defence

Much attention has rightly been paid to United's striking options as the club chases glory on three fronts.

The manager is often asked to compare the 2013 quartet of Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck with the 1999 Treble-winning vintage. It's inevitable and goals, after all, do win matches and, therefore, trophies.

However, it is worth also taking a look at the battle for places at the heart of the defence which has, arguably, become even more intense than the jostling for a striking slot.

When the Reds kicked off the season at Everton, Michael Carrick partnered Nemanja Vidic at centre-back in the 1-0 defeat. With the greatest of respect to Carrick, who continues to show he is one of the best players in his position in the league, it was not the most ideal of pairings. Vidic had not played a league game since the previous December due to his cruciate knee ligament injury and yet the duo would have to work in tandem again when Fulham provided the opposition in the first game of the campaign at Old Trafford.

Rio Ferdinand then returned for the September trip to Southampton and Jonny Evans, surely a contender for United's Player of the Year, was back for the Champions League tie with Galatasaray later that month. If those three thought they would scrap it out for starts, boosted by Sir Alex's insistence that he prefers a settled pairing, the recent form of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling may be causing the boss to think again.

By the manager's own admission, the England international duo, who played alongside each other in the Under-21 European Championship finals a couple of years ago, have been nothing short of excellent when shutting out West Ham in the FA Cup third-round replay and helping the side thump Fulham 4-1 in the following round.

On both occasions, the pair made our short-list for the Man of the Match award and looked perfectly at home in the middle of the defence. While Smalling and Jones can play at right-back and, in the latter's case, also in midfield, their preferred position is at centre-back

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