David Moyes has warned Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic that he faces a battle to regain his place in the team.
But manager Moyes has told Vidic that, with four other central defenders in his squad, no one is guaranteed to start.
He told PA Sport: "Nemanja is just about ready to play now. 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."
Vidic, 32, has endured an injury-hit season. He suffered concussion in a collision with goalkeeper David de Gea in November’s 1-0 win over Arsenal and was out for three weeks before being hurt in the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle and missing the last two matches.
Moyes began the campaign favouring the tried and trusted partnership of the two most experienced centre-backs, Vidic and Ferdinand, but they have not started a league game together since September’s 4-1 defeat to Manchester City.
Evans and Jones were paired at the back as United kept a clean sheet in their 3-0 victory at Villa Park on Sunday.