Phil Jones says defender Nemanja Vidic's return to first-team football has given Manchester United a welcome boost as they prepare for the Christmas and New Year programme.
The Serb, who sustained a cruciate knee injury last December and suffered a setback during his recovery in September, has made only six appearances in the last 12 months.
But fellow defender Jones believes his leadership and quality will be vital to United as they prepare to face Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom, Wigan and West Ham in the space of 15 days.
"It's a boost for us to have Nemanja back," he said. "He's a fantastic player, a great captain, and it's important he's back for the busy festive period."
But Jones, who made his first league start of the season against Sunderland, said he realised that Vidic's comeback could limit his own chances.
He added: "I enjoy the competition for places - it's great to have a number of players battling for the same position.
"It keeps people on their toes and keeps us fighting for the shirt. We see it in training. The sessions are intense, and there's a good atmosphere."
Centre-back Chris Smalling, who also faced the Black Cats, was disappointed that United again failed to keep a clean sheet as the conceded late chances to Martin O'Neill's side, who improved after the break.
The home took a 3-0 lead before conceding to Fraizer Campbell - the 24th league goal they have let in.
United have kept only three clean sheets, fewer than 12 other teams including Sunderland, Norwich and Aston Villa.
"There was a bit of carelessness from us [in the second half]," Smalling told MUTV. "We were disappointed with the goal we conceded because we wanted to get a clean sheet. We have to make sure it doesn't cost us next time.
"Getting a clean sheet means to a lot to us as defenders, but also because our record recently hasn't included a lot of them. It would have been ideal to get one."