Having become the third Manchester United player this season to hit the century mark for Premier League goals, Paul Scholes has now achieved a milestone which is thoroughly deserved for a player often heralded as one of the best of a generation. Scholes has hit the century mark in a total of 436 matches – for a midfielder to achieve a scoring rate of one in four over a career spanning more than 15 years is a huge achievement, especially considering the way his game has been adapted in recent seasons.
Scholes in fact started his career playing further forward as a striker and at times formed a strong partnership with Eric Cantona in the 1995/96 double winning season, often battling with Andy Cole for a starting berth. It was, however, once the former England man was moved back into his most favoured position of central midfield that we were witness to the potential of his huge talent. Scholes formed a strong partnership with Roy Keane in the United engine room – one which was to propel them not only to the treble success in 1999 but also to another two consecutive titles in 2000 and 2001. The partnership with Keane enabled Scholes to get forward plenty and it was in this role that he was really able to make his mark as a goalscoring central midfielder.
One of the most striking parts of Scholes’ game is the ability to find space in a tight encounter, something which considering the nature of Premier League football is extremely difficult. As a younger player Scholes would use this ability to ghost into the opposition penalty area with a late run which would often see him connecting with the final ball into the box. It was because of this movement and ability to time a run perfectly that he was often able to score with this head, something which his diminutive size would hamper for most players. This awareness and ability to find space has helped him to adapt his game in the latter stages of his career when dropping deeper into the midfield. He is always an option for the player in possession whether that is a centre-half or centre-forward, they can always look to find Scholes. Consequently he is able to continually orchestrate the play from a deep lying position. Current United players such as Wayne Rooney still owe a huge amount to the play-making of Scholes.
A part of Scholes’ game that he has been famed for is his shooting ability with one particular volley against Bradford direct from a David Beckham corner the perfect example of his first class technique. Another volley at Villa Park is also worthy of a mention. His goals-per-game ratio may have dropped as he has made his way deeper into the midfield but when presented with an opportunity he can still be relied on to find the net. His 100th goal is a prime example of his continuing importance to this United side. The team performance against Wolves was poor but United were able to gain exactly what they needed with Scholes providing the decisive moment. Scholes was able to do a similar job against Blackburn in the 2006/07 season when United were struggling for form and just needed a single goal. The win against Blackburn was the stepping stone for the final push towards the title and the importance of the goal against Wolves should be seen in the same category. To win when you have not been at your best is the mark of champions and in order to do this you need players in the mould of Scholes.
At 35 however, United will not be able to rely on the talents of Scholes for much longer, which begs the question of how he will be replaced. The ability on the ball of Michael Carrick is much in the class of Scholes but where United must seek a replacement is in and around the box with the potential to score decisive goals – currently there is no-one to fit the bill. Many thought that this berth could be filled by Anderson but his goalscoring record is abysmal and currently doesn’t seem to have the temperament to really make an impact at United. Darron Gibson certainly has the shooting power of Scholes but lacks the required nous on the edge of the opposition penalty area. Gibson was required to push further forward in the absence of Rooney against Wolves, but it was something he seemed to struggle with, appearing unclear as to how to fully support Dimitar Berbatov. Scholes in his younger days would have been the perfect support for the Bulgarian.
It is certainly unclear as to how United will replace one of their greatest players under Sir Alex Ferguson but what still remains clear is the ability and potential still surrounding Scholes. This again is likely to be required come the visit of AC Milan this week in what is a huge Champions League encounter. Following on from his achievements over the weekend it may be foolish to bet against Scholes once again proving decisive.
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