David Moyes has warned skipper Nemanja Vidic he cannot expect to walk straight back into the Manchester United team.
Vidic is ready to return after missing two games with a minor injury suffered in the Premier League defeat by Newcastle at Old Trafford on December 7.
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.
And whilst Vidic has been the cornerstone of United's defence following his arrival from Spartak Moscow almost eight years ago, the Serbian has been plagued by injury since rupturing his cruciate ligaments in the Champions League to Basle in December 2011.
With Rio Ferdinand now 35, Moyes is known to be on the lookout for central defensive reinforcements.
Yet, even amongst his current squad, it seems Vidic will have to work to win his place back.
"Nemanja is just about ready to play now," said Moyes.
"But we have five centre-halves. We can use Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and him.
"There is competition for places there and you are going to have to play well to stay in the team."