At 37 and 38 respectively, it’s remarkable that Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs can still have the influence they do over matches at the very top level, and Scholes’ performances against Southampton and Wigan demonstrate that he still has a lot to offer.
However these two legends cannot be relied upon to win Manchester United the league, and their continuing influence is perhaps an indication of Ferguson’s inability to evolve his team’s midfield to a level where they are not needed any more.
There have been many attempts to replace Scholes and Giggs, but looking over the players that have been brought in it is clear they have not been adequate.
As Joey Barton memorably noted last season, what can Anderson think when a 37 year old is brought out of retirement to play ahead of him? Having to rely on Scholes in particular was one of the reasons Manchester United fell short of their rivals last season.
That it was only on goal difference is an indication of how good Scholes was, but his influence waned towards the end of the season, when United stuttered against Everton and stalled against City. This year the midfielder’s contribution has to be carefully managed to avoid this happening again, especially as he is expected to play a full season.
Scholes and Giggs can win you a game with their contribution, but the bulk of the playing time this year must be undertaken by younger players. Shinji Kagawa will have to the be the creative centre midfield force, Cleverley and Carrick will have to control the game.
Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani will have to perform consistently, rather than dipping in and out of brilliance as they have done in the past. If these players cannot step up to the mark, and Scholes and Giggs find themselves starting more games on the pitch than the bench, Man Utd will fall short again.
These two players are a marker of everything great about Man Utd’s recent history, and they can provide a crucial contribution this season. But it is time for the myriad of other midfielders United have to take hold of the Red Devils’ future, and write some history of their own.