Manchester :Nemanja Vidic is set to make a return to the heart of Manchester United's defence when the English champions face Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The Serbia international was one of eight United defenders to miss the midweek 3-1 Champions League win at Wolfsburg, due to illness.
Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to rely on a back-line that included Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick and had Patrice Evra as the only recognized defender.
But first-choice centre back Vidic is set to return against Martin O'Neill's side to bring some much needed defensive strength.
However, with Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea and Jonny Evans all likely to miss the festive programme, United manager Ferguson may have to call on Carrick at the back once again if Wes Brown does not return from an ankle injury against ambitious Villa.
Despite the disruption caused by their lengthy injury list, United made up ground in the title race last weekend, with their 4-0 win over West Ham and Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City moving Ferguson's team within two points of the leaders.
United have responded to their fitness problems with four straight wins that have seen them score 13 goals.
Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson has been one beneficiary of the growing sick list at Old Trafford and now he is is determined to hold down a first-team place.
With Fletcher and Carrick being pressed into more defensive roles, the 22-year-old Gibson has featured in five games in the last month and has come up with three goals.
"It is a difficult time for United," said Gibson. "Obviously I don't like players being injured but it has given me a chance to prove myself.
"From not playing at all to playing three games in a week is tough going," he added.
"But the manager has shown enough trust in me and I feel I have taken my opportunities so far. Hopefully, they keep coming.
"As everyone knows, it is very difficult to make it at United but if you do it, you reap the rewards.
"The gaffer (Ferguson) is famous for giving chances to young lads. If you take your chance he sticks with you, so hopefully I will keep getting a few more games," Gibson said.
Although they have coped admirably without so many defenders, Scotland midfielder Fletcher said it was vital Ferguson got his first-choice back four in place as soon as possible.
"We have a few problems and the sooner our defenders come back the better," Fletcher said.
"But if not we'll have to rally round as a team like we did in midweek and try to put in a professional performance.
"We always go into games thinking we have enough quality to win the match, no matter what the team is.
"But we want our defenders fit because we have some big games coming up and need everyone available."
Despite United's ongoing injury concerns, Villa manager Martin O'Neill insisted his fifth-placed team would be far from over-confident for their trip to the champions.
"If you had listened to Sir Alex talking before their European game this week he mentioned that the most important thing for him was Saturday's game against Aston Villa." O'Neill said.
"He might not have every single option available to him but he'll have a lot more options available to him on Saturday, you can guarantee that.
"Manchester United couldn't have won the number of championships they have without having one of the strongest squads in European football.