United need new Scholes to resist City surge

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If there's one thing to take from this week's Champions League ties, it's that pure footballing talent will only take a team so far. Grit, determination, and desire will take good sides and make them great.

Chelsea's "heroes" may have chased Barcelona's shadows for 180 minutes, but they tactically outthought, out-worked and outmanoeuvred their illustrious opponents on the way to a famous victory.

And if there's one player in the Premier League who perfectly marries unique talent with an unmatched hunger for success, it's Paul Scholes.

The midfielder is on the cusp of his eleventh Premier League title, and his retirement reversal has garnered universal praise from players, pundits and fans alike.

Finishing third in this year's FWA Player of the Year award may have been a touch sentimental, for however influential he has been 18 games is still less than half a season's work. Even if that were an adequate marker, a stronger argument could be made for Papiss Cisse, Sergio Aguero or Clint Dempsey, over the same three month period in which Scholes has operated this season.

Nevertheless, it's no coincidence that his presence has coincided with a United surge. The Red Devils' icy grip on the title may have thawed after their draw against Everton, but a Scholes-led midfield will go to the Etihad confident in the knowledge that a win secures the title.

But, the good times cannot last forever. Rio Ferdinand has confirmed that he's trying to persuade his former-England teammate to stay another season, but the likes of Scholes, and Ryan Giggs, cannot be relied upon to smuggle titles away from a Manchester City super-squad in the long-term.

"It would be nice if he could play another season, but with Scholesy, you know it doesn't make a difference what anybody else says," said Ferdinand.

"There are a number of reasons why we've done well since the turn of the year and there's no doubt that one of them is Paul Scholes."

United are yet to lose in the Premier League since the Salford-born maestro returned to the Theatre of Dreams, and Ferdinand believes his teammate is a phenomenon.

"It's not just the quality of his football that impresses me but the way he has adapted physically," added Ferdinand. "He was out of the game for months and yet he's come straight back into top-level football and he's hardly looked out of place. At this stage of his career, that's phenomenal."

The magic of watching Scholes play has always centred on his control of the game, it's tempo and rhythms, but the stats back up his dominance. The advent of Twitter accounts like Opta and have popularised the previously mundane world of statistical analysis, giving fans the opportunity to see the cold-hard facts of a player's performance, and Scholes looks as impressive on the page as he does on the pitch.

The latest stats note that 316 players have played more Premier League matches than the United star, yet only 72 of those have completed more passes. In 14 Premier League encounters, Scholes has completed 865 passes, with a completion percentage of 92.4%. On average, only five of Scholes' passes will not find their target during a Premier League match.

When his retirement was announced last year, speculation mounted as to who could replace him. Luka Modric and Wesley Sneijder were mooted although ultimately both stayed put.

Instead, Ferguson opted to stick with what he had, rotating Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverely, Giggs, Anderson and Phil Jones in the central midfield slots. But injuries and stuttering league form led to Scholes' return, a tact admission by Ferguson that he may have miscalculated last summer.

But even if Ferdinand gets his wish, and Scholes returns for another season, the problem of United's central midfield will not be solved. Cleverely has shown promise but has been plagued by injury, similarly Anderson, and Carrick have class, but questions persist regarding his big-game temperament.

Giggs, like Scholes, will be managed and saved for select key fixtures, while Jones ultimately will find a place at the heart of the United defence. A Scholes-shaped hole will have to be filled at some point, and Ferdinand's plea for a season's reprieve should not be heeded.

United need to sign a replacement this season, regardless of whether Scholes returns. If Tottenham miss out on Champions League qualification, Ferguson should move for Modric while the chance to sign Sneijder has most likely passed.

The Old Trafford crowd have also seen the promise of Ajax starlet Cristian Eriksen at first hand in the UEFA Cup, and the Dane has undoubted potential.

Pablo Zabaleta spoke recently about how important experience and mental strength will be in deciding the outcome of the upcoming Manchester derby. Chelsea showed how much they count for on the biggest stage in the Nou Camp.

Paul Scholes possesses these attributes and will be important if United are to withstand a resurgent City. But we should enjoy watching him while we can. Stretching his career to fill out holes in United's midfield is not good for the club, and City are sure to invest heavily this off-season.

It may be difficult, but Ferguson needs a new Scholes to avoid being left in the same situation as last summer.

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Premier League
Manchester United
Paul Scholes

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