Sir Alex Ferguson insists Nemanja Vidic is getting back to his best.
The Manchester United skipper was a surprise omission from Ferguson's starting line-up to face Real Madrid on Wednesday. Instead, Jonny Evans got the job of partnering Rio Ferdinand in central defence but it is clear Vidic still has a major role to play.
His performance against Everton last weekend was a throwback to the Serbian's best days, but after virtually 16 months out of action and two lots of major knee surgery, Ferguson is happy for Vidic to inch his way back. And the United boss said: "Steadily, he's getting there."
He added: "He was fantastic against Everton and I had my doubts over whether I was doing the right thing or not. But, in my mind, three days' recovery was a risk, so I stuck by what we've been doing with him.
"We've managed it for a while now. When Nemanja came back from his latest injury he'd only played about eight games in 18 months. That's a long time out and not a lot of games."
And, in a further indication of why Ferdinand is not being considered for an England recall by Roy Hodgson, Ferguson underlined his belief that the same situation exists with his other experienced central defender.
"It would have been the same with Rio," said Ferguson. "If he'd played on Sunday I would have had my doubts playing him on Wednesday."
It means Evans could now be regarded as a first-choice, having started 22 times this season, one more than Ferdinand.
"Jonny is only 25 but he's emerged in the last year as a real top defender," said Ferguson. "His form has been fantastic.
"If you can get consistency off young players you are on the right track and Jonny has shown great consistency in the last year. Last season it wasn't until Ferdinand and Evans played regularly that we got a run going."