EXCLUSIVE: Vidic set to return this season!
Published 23:01 17/02/12 By David McDonnell
Nemanja Vidic is poised to make a sensational return before the end of the season - and perhaps even in time for the Manchester derby.
Manchester United's talismanic skipper Vidic was ruled out for the season after suffering cruciate knee ligament damage during the shock Champions League exit to Basel on December 7.
But the Mirror has learned the defender is at least a month ahead of schedule in his recovery programme and could return to give United a major boost in the title race run-in.
Vidic had surgery before Christmas and is said to have progressed to the 'weight-bearing' stage of his rehab programme - and could even start running by the end of the month.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his medical staff are mindful of rushing the player back and running the risk of him breaking down and having to endure a longer spell out of action.
United did just that in their Champions League semi-final defeat to AC Milan five years ago, when Vidic was brought back from injury too soon and was patently not fit.
But the club's medical and fitness believe Vidic has a realistic chance of coming back before the end of the season - without major risk - to help in the battle for the title.
United are scheduled to visit City, who are two points clear at the top of the table with 13 games to go, for a potential title decider on Saturday April 28, although the game may well be moved for live TV coverage.
Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans have former United's regular central defensive partnership during Vidic's absence, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones also filling in there.
The champions' injury crisis - Ferdinand, Smalling and Jones have all been ruled out at times - has been such that midfielder Michael Carrick has also been deployed at the back.
Ferguson currently has 10 players out injured, including Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Anders Lindegaard, while Darren Fletcher is out for the season with a bowel condition.
Vidic has already outlined his desire for a swift return to action.
Speaking last month, he said: "Everything is going well. It's progressing in the right way.
"I have the motivation to work hard and I want to be back as soon as possible."