David Moyes has warned his captain Nemanja Vidic he cannot expect to walk straight back into the Manchester United team as they prepare to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Vidic is ready to return after missing two games with a minor injury suffered in the Premier League defeat by Newcastle at Old Trafford. Yet those two matches have both been wins, in which United have managed to keep successive clean sheets for only the second time this season.
Jonny Evans and Phil Jones looked particularly untroubled at Aston Villa on Sunday. While Vidic has been the cornerstone of United's defence following his arrival from Spartak Moscow almost eight years ago, the Serb has been plagued by injuries since rupturing his cruciate ligaments in the Champions League against Basel in December 2011.
"Nemanja is just about ready to play now," said Moyes. "But we have five centre-halves. There is competition for places there and you are going to have to play well to stay in the team."
The Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, is wary of a backlash from his former club after their recent resurgence. "United teams always display the same characteristic traits," he said. "You know United players react to criticism and we have to be careful with that. They have a great squad."