United are starting to resolve their central midfield problems of last season, turning to Michael Carrick to replace Roy Keane, which has unsurprisingly proved more successful than our stints with O’Shea, Fletcher and Smith taking over that role. United have had a solid back four, with new boys Evra and Vidic proving to be two of the best defenders in the league this season, alongside the ever influencing Neville and Ferdinand. This is a stark difference from the injury ridden back four last season, which saw Richardson and Bardsley as our best available fullbacks for periods of time. Ronaldo has finally found the form United fans believed and hoped he had inside him, scoring goals for fun this season, and embarrassing any defence he comes across. The departure of Ruud has lead to the goalscoring load being shared amongst our strikers, with Saha, Rooney and Solskjaer bagging 39 between them. The team look more hungry than ever for success, and their never say die attitude has pushed them to six points clear at the top. These are all reasons for United’s transformation, but one of the most important factors in our success this season is the return of Paul Scholes.
There was talk that Scholes may never play again last December, when Paul was ruled out for the remainder of the season with “blurred vision”. His surprise appearance on the last day of the season in the 4-0 battering of Charlton, which secured United’s 2nd place in the league, gave some reassurance to the fans, as Scholes slotted back in to the team with ease.
This season, I would argue Paul Scholes has been our most important player. Whilst there’s not much substitution for the excitement and goals Ronaldo has provided us with this season, there’s even less that could be done to replace Scholes’ presence for us. Ronaldo’s step overs, flicks and free kicks may leave the crowd mesmerised, but what about when Scholes picks up the ball in his own half and passes it to the feet of a player on the run 40 yards away? Scholes does this over, and over, and over again, in every match he plays in. When Scholes isn’t on the field, there’s a massive gap in the centre of our midfield, and the creativity he provides can’t be matched by anyone else.
Now, I’ve been impressed with Scholes’ passing, and after seeing the shambles of England’s central midfield against Andorra, I was curious as to how much England needed Scholes, and just how much, if any better, he is than the rest. Good old Sky Sports provided me with what I wanted to hear.
Sky Sports list in order the players who make the most passes for each club. At United for example the five players who’ve made the most passes are Scholes, Ferdinand, Carrick, Neville and Ronaldo. They then list the completion percentage of each of these players. I took the player who’ve attempted the most passes for the club, (so you’re looking at the Lampard’s, Parker’s and Barton’s of each team) and then ranked them by their passing completion. However, some clubs have players who’ve attempted less passes but have a better pass completion, so I’ve slotted them in to the rankings as well.
Not one player in the Premiership has a passing completion of 90%+, apart from Paul Scholes. Is this because he’s attempted significantly less passes than other players? No, Fabregas and Alonso (both with 81% passing completion) are the only players who’ve attempted more than Scholes. (It is also interesting to note that Carrick is a better passer of the ball than both Lampard and Gerrard).
1. Paul Scholes 1,624 91.1% (United)
Michael Essien 1,463 85.0% (Chelsea)
Alexander Hleb 1,117 83.6% (Arsenal)
Michael Carrick 1,435 83.3% (United)
Claude Makelele 1,273 83.3% (Chelsea)
2. Hayden Mullins 996 82.1% (West Ham)
3. Francesc Fabregas 2,071 81.8% (Arsenal)
4. Xabi Alonso 1,722 81.6% (Liverpool)
Gilberto Silva 1,406 80.9% (Arsenal)
5. Kerimoglou Tugay 1,243 81.0% (Blackburn)
Rio Ferdinand 1,544 80.5% (United)
6. Frank Lampard 1,571 79.6% (Chelsea)
7. Scott Parker 1,111 79.3% (Newcastle)
Pascal Chimbonda 1,011 79.1% (Spurs)
Brett Emerton 1,063 77.8% (Blackburn)
8. George Boateng 1,132 77.4% (Boro)
Steven Gerrard 1,562 77.1% (Liverpool)
Mikel Arteta 1,082 76.5% (Everton)
9. Pedro Mendes 1,050 76.3% (Portsmouth)
10. Gavin McCann 1,174 75.1% (Villa)
Steve Sidwell 1,034 73.9% (Reading)
Gary O’Neil 1,001 73.9% (Portsmouth)
11. Denny Landzaat 866 73.8%
12. Ivan Campo 1,148 72.4% (Bolton)
13. Joey Barton 1,186 71.8% (City)
Gary Speed 1,075 70.6% (Bolton)
Gareth Barry 1,087 71.6% (Villa)
14. Michael Dawson 1,060 71.0% (Spurs)
15. Philip Neville 1,192 65.1% (Everton)
16. Talal El Karkouri 985 66.4% (Charlton)
17. Gavin Mahon 889 66.4% (Watford)
18. Liam Rosenior 1,095 64.8% (Fulham)
19. Phil Jagielka 978 63.7% (Sheffield United)
20. Nicky Shorey 1,165 62.6% (Reading)
Earlier in the season, Ferguson spoke to support Scholes’ claim to player of the season saying, “I think everyone at the club and the supporters would be delighted if Paul got an honour. His football brain, and the football he produces at times, is marvellous. It would be great for him to get an award like that.”
This has been supported by rival Thierry Henry, who said, “For years Paul Scholes has been one of the best players in the Premiership. He’s incredible. He’s come back into the team after his eye injury and he’s playing so well, like he’s never been away. He has always been under-rated throughout his career. He’s a team player, a one and two-touch footballer who makes good decisions on the pitch and makes his team play. I don’t understand why he has never won the player of the year. A guy like that should have won it long ago.”
Before United played Blackburn at the weekend, Scholes gave a rare interview, talking to the club’s official website. The shy and retiring player, who always dodges the limelight, has played down his extraordinary form. “It’s [his form] been all right. I know I can play better,” he said. “I’d like to be scoring a few more goals and making a few more as well. Hopefully in the important last few months of the season I can contribute a bit more.”
So we’re 1-0 down at home to Blackburn, knowing our lead at the top of the table could be reduced to 3 points if we don’t turn it around. Whilst we looked like the better team, whilst we kept pushing forward, we needed that break through goal. We had too much for Blackburn to contain, but this meant nothing if we didn’t get the first goal.
Scholes calmly took the ball past the Blackburn defence, and whilst the crowd called for him to shoot, he took his time, got himself in to the ideal position, and then fired home. This isn’t the first vital goal of the season though. He broke the deadlock against Liverpool and Copenhagen, and scored both our goals against Newcastle in the 2-2 draw.