NEMANJA Vidic has conceded that Manchester United's defensive failings are becoming a "big concern" for the club, with the captain fearful of the damage Valencia might administer in the Champions League tomorrow evening unless there is a dramatic improvement.
United have conceded nine goals in their past five matches in the Premier League, including seven in their three away games, and travel to Spain this morning before a potentially stern test against the surprise Primera Liga leaders.
Valencia are unbeaten this season, having defied the loss of David Villa and David Silva in the summer to win five of their opening six matches to lead Barcelona and Real Madrid in the title race.
They also brushed aside Bursaspor 4-0 in Turkey in their opening group C game and Vidic has warned his team-mates that they can ill afford a repeat of the poor defensive showings that have blighted their start to the season or risk being exposed by their Spanish opponents at the Mestalla.
"It is a big concern conceding so many away goals," Vidic said. "We have lost too many goals in away games and we have to stop that.
"We haven't given that many goals away in the past. We have always looked strong and haven't given teams so many chances. We have to be much better in Spain. Valencia are in decent form and won their first (Champions League) match 4-0 and are now top of La Liga. That shows how well they are playing at the moment."
United had to come from behind twice to rescue a point against Bolton Wanderers in a 2-2 draw at the Reebok Stadium on Sunday. Fulham and Everton have also capitalised on defensive blunders to draw 2-2 and 3-3 respectively against United in recent weeks, while Liverpool were allowed to draw level from two goals down at Old Trafford nine days ago before losing 3-2.
Rio Ferdinand is expected to be restored to central defence against Valencia at the expense of Jonny Evans -- who, along with Patrice Evra, the left back, has endured a torrid start to the season -- but while the return of the England captain should help to tighten up things at the back, the statistics do not augur well.
United have won only once away to Spanish opposition in 18 attempts and have failed to score on their past three visits to the country, while Valencia are unbeaten in 11 home matches in Europe. Having being held to a disappointing goalless draw at home to Rangers in their opening match, a point, at least, would not go amiss, even if Valencia may look to target United's apparent susceptibility from set-pieces.
"At Bolton, there was one goal conceded from a set-piece and one came after a corner, which is not good," Vidic said. "We are giving teams too many opportunities and they are taking them. We have to work on the small details and keep coming again.
"It is hard to explain what is going wrong. It is not the true Manchester United.
"It does have to be sorted out very quickly."
With Wayne Rooney omitted from the squad, Dimitar Berbatov may operate as a lone striker, with Alex Ferguson, the manager, likely to opt for the 4-5-1 formation he has favoured in Europe. "It is going to be a difficult match," said midfielder Darren Fletcher. "People might say it is not the same Valencia because they have lost Villa and Silva.
"But as we have seen at Manchester United, when you lose good players others step up to the mark and take on more responsibility. They have had a fantastic start.
"We have picked up experience of playing in Europe and we have confidence," added Fletcher.
"We know how to cope with the travel and the different styles of play. Against Spanish sides, keeping the ball is key.
"If you give the ball away cheaply, you might not see it for a few minutes and they will punish you."