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21 April 2024

Return of Scholes fails to lift gloom at Man United

Paul Scholes of Manchester United competes with Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. (Getty Images)

By Reuters

A dramatic FA Cup victory over major rivals and the shock return of Paul Scholes should have been enough to significantly lift spirits at Manchester United at the weekend.

The mood around Old Trafford was still uncertain on Monday, however.

United fans were stunned to see the 37-year-old Scholes, one of the club's finest players, named among the substitutes for Sunday's game against Manchester City and when he was sent on to the pitch in the second half they gave him a warm ovation.

Scholes certainly provides United manager Alex Ferguson with vast experience in central midfield, an area of the squad which has been seriously weakened by the loss of Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher to long-term injury and illness.

Ferguson tried unsuccessfully to sign a top-quality replacement for Scholes at the end of last season and United's midfield options are far weaker than all their major Premier League rivals.

Scholes has struggled to cope with the pace of many younger opponents in the past few seasons, receiving several yellow and red cards for late tackles. Having not played competitive football for eight months, he is sure to find it difficult once again.

Ferguson was very unhappy about the way his team allowed City back into the match after storming into a 3-0 halftime lead.

City were down to 10 men after 11 minutes following the sending-off of defender Vincent Kompany but they still dominated the second half, capitalising on sloppy United defending to score two goals and make their opponents sweat for the victory they so badly wanted to avenge the 6-1 humiliation by their neighbours earlier this season.

Although United enjoyed long periods of possession, with Scholes instrumental in knocking the ball neatly around in midfield, they failed to create any clearcut chances and their defence was terrorised by Sergio Aguero.

Rio Ferdinand struggled to cope with the pace and power of the muscular Argentine and, with Phil Jones showing signs of weariness after a demanding run of matches and Chris Smalling just back in the team following illness, the United rearguard looks far from secure in the absence of Nemanja Vidic.

It was typical of Ferguson to focus on negatives after such an important win as he plots how to lift his team above City in the Premier League table.

They trail their neighbours by three points and City will not have the distraction of the FA Cup to deal with, possibly a significant advantage as United face another titanic clash with Liverpool in the fourth round.

On the positive side was the performance of striker Wayne Rooney who emerged from another week of media speculation about his future with two goals.

Ferguson will need the England international to produce his best form over the rest of the season if United are to retain their title.