Sir Alex Ferguson plans huge defensive changes at United

Sir Alex Ferguson is preparing to draw a close to one of his most successful centre-back partnerships by allowing both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to leave Manchester United at the end of the current campaign.

While both defenders are to be retained for the rest of the season in which young England internationals Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will be developed as their successors, the Scot plans radical change.

Vidic's availability has been floated around Europe on United's behalf, with Juventus strongly interested and richly funded Anzhi Makhachkala considering offering the 30 year old a return to the Russian Premier League. Ferguson is understood to have been unimpressed with Vidic's response to being left out of the starting line-up at times this season.

Until recently Old Trafford's highest paid player, Ferdinand's problem has been a failure to regularly make the first team.

Now 33, Ferdinand has managed less than 70 league appearances over the past three-and-a-half seasons during which he has suffered a series of injuries. He was taken off after 64 minutes at Villa Park yesterday with an injury concern.

The England international is also thought more likely to move overseas than continue at another Premier League club, with a move to Major League Soccer an option.

Ferdinand and Vidic were in fine form yesterday though, as United beat Aston Villa in a scrappy game of few chances to stay five points behind leaders Manchester City.

Phil Jones scored the only goal of the game with a clinical finish after 20 minutes. Patrice Evra released the overlapping Nani and his cross was met by Jones who volleyed past Shay Given from close range.

Earlier there was a lengthy delay when Javier Hernandez hurt his ankle and was taken off on a stretcher, adding to United's injury problems.

* Duncan Castles, with agencies


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