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How can Manchester United compete without Paul Scholes this season?

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For 17 years, Manchester United have had Paul Scholes pulling the strings at the heart of their midfield, and nobody can dispute what an able puppeteer the diminutive Englishman has proved to be. Indeed, even Barcelona’s Xavi has claimed that Scholes was a massive influence to him, and the Spaniard’s widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world. But alas, the Scholes era, which has proved so fruitful for Manchester United, has come to an end and, as it is looking increasingly likely that the Mancunian giants will not add to their ranks during the remainder of this transfer window, the ambition of the club now rests on the shoulders of their current central midfielders: Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley. The question is, are those shoulders broad enough?

With regards to Giggs, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. A more appropriate question is ‘are those shoulders young enough, or will this season be the stage on which the Welshman’s infirmities finally catch up with him?’ As his career has progressed, Giggs has proved his versatility by seamlessly converting from a winger to a central midfielder, but at nearly 38 years old he may not have anywhere near the influence on the pitch this season as we’re used to seeing. I wouldn’t write him off just yet, but I certainly don’t see him starting the majority of matches this year. Maybe just the biggies.

Also, Giggs is a very different player to Scholes, and certainly can’t be expected to match his incredible long passing and his box-to-box dominance. Therefore, a much more natural replacement is Michael Carrick. When he first arrived at United, Carrick looked to be fresh from the Scholes mould: he was a brilliant passer, and a couple of years ago he would have seemed the perfect replacement for his compatriot. However, Carrick has never had the ability to shoot from distance like Scholes, and recently his form has dipped alarmingly. Nowadays he seems invisible in matches, especially in high-tempo games, and he reeks of mediocrity. I think most United fans would rather see the frail and crippled Owen Hargreaves play ahead of a fully fit Michael Carrick in midfield.

Darren Fletcher is probably United’s best midfielder at present, and when he shakes off that pesky virus that’s been troubling him for months, he’ll go straight back into the United first team. He can pass and shoot very well and is good in the air, and unlike Scholes can tackle very well. And very aggressively too due to his raw Scottish grit. The only real worry with Fletcher is that he’s too defensive and lacks the creativity which Scholes had in abundance. I can’t see a Darren Fletcher pass ever leading to the winning goal in a big game, but maybe that’s just me.

A much more creative and attacking, yet equally energetic, option is Anderson. In fact, his playing-style seems to compliment Fletcher’s perfectly and I see them forming quite a midfield partnership if Sir Alex plays them together. And of course, Brazilians and Scots are famous for their intercontinental teamwork. Anderson has started scoring goals, which is something his game lacked a couple of seasons ago, and at 23 years of age there’s certainly time for further improvement. His performances for United have switched from consistently average with a few good games to consistently good with a few outstanding games, and he could have a very big future at Manchester United.

Paul Scholes looked to have been reincarnated (yeah I know he’s not dead- it’s artistic license) in the slightly doughy, Irish body of a young Darron Gibson. That’s now changed. I, along with many, thought Gibson was going to be the next big thing when he burst onto the scene in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, scoring 8 goals in 37 appearances. However, since then Gibson has barely improved. In fact, his once thunderous shooting ability seems to have gotten worse. Bearing in mind he was very nearly sold to Sunderland this season, I really can’t see him replacing Paul Scholes at Manchester United. I really hope not to save embarrassment for the poor lad.

The high-pressure role of ‘Midfield Starlet’ at Manchester United has recently switched from Gibson to Tom Cleverley. He’s impressed on several loan spells, most recently to Wigan Athletic, and was brilliant in the Community Shield against Manchester City. He’s very attacking and energetic and could be exactly what United need in the wake of the retirement of Paul Scholes. But I won’t be putting money on it just yet… not after what happened with Gibson.

I don’t know if this article answers the question in the title. Probably not. What I can just about infer from my ramblings in retrospect is that if Fletcher stays fit and Anderson and Cleverley continue to improve, United will be just fine. In fact, they may even end up with an incredibly potent attacking midfielder in Tom Cleverley. However if this is not the case, United could be forced into a midfield duo of Carrick and Gibson, which could lead to the capitulation of the entire team and the gory suicide of thousands of heartbroken fans. No pressure then lads.

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