Which of the returning stars will make the difference in this title decider?
The names Scholes and Tevez weren’t ever supposed to appear on Manchester team sheets again, but with the title possibly resting on the outcome of this Monday’s altercation, they’re back to pour a little petrol on the fire.
Back in October, when City were embarrassing United 6-1 at Old Trafford to open up a five-point lead at the top of the table, Tevez was out-earning Rory McIlroy on the golf course, while Scholes was teaching the United youth team how not to tackle.
Since Scholes’ return, however, United have won 12 of their 15 league games to overhaul City and go three points clear themselves with just three matches remaining.
City could win and still not land the title, of course, but lose and there’ll be no debate as to the correct standings in the Manchester pecking order.
In the meantime, Carlos and Paul have a few points to make…
EFFECT ON THE TEAM
Scholes: Scholes’ return was greeted with the kind of delight Sir Alex usually saves for a fine merlot proferred by a humbled manager. Only Tom Cleverley, the poor unfortunate kicked out of bed to make way for him, had reason to fume. His comeback has inspired Manchester United’s rise to top spot – due in no small part to his calming influence on teammates when in possession and ability to set the tempo of the game.
Tevez: Tevez’s return from his self-imposed exile was rather less jubilant than Scholes’, but he has slotted seamlessly back into the team, and publicly thanked his colleagues for their support after his Norwich hat-trick.
He has also managed to fit back in without treading on anyone’s toes, as Mancini was already looking for a solution to the grief caused by his other major pest, Mario Balotelli.
Scholes: Scholes has a pass completion rate consistently around the 90 per cent mark, but when he does give the ball away, it’s often in dangerous positions in his own third of the pitch – such as his sloppy pass during his comeback game in January in the FA Cup third round that gifted City a goal and pegged United back to a 3-2 lead.
Tevez: Like Scholes, Tevez also rarely makes mistakes. Admittedly he does his work 30 yards further up the pitch than Scholes, but he has shown his ability to handle pressure throughout his career, most notably when slotting home the first penalty in United’s Champions League shootout win over Chelsea in 2008.
POTENTIAL TO BE A LIABILITY
Scholes: While Tevez has provided a near-constant source of irritation to his manager, Scholes has been lauded as a model professional for the best part of 20 years. However, his unique tackling style has made him the third most booked player in Premier League history. He also got sent off for a demented lunge on Pablo Zabaleta in last season’s FA Cup semi against City – a game United lost.
Tevez: In contrast to Scholes, card king of Manchester, Tevez has never been sent off in the English top tier. If City can get their noses in front – something they have managed in three of their last four meetings – then it’s the United man who has the potential to be the bigger liability, something City will doubtless look to exploit.
Scholes: Scholes has consistently delivered in big games throughout his career – he has found the net in an FA Cup final (against Newcastle in 1999) and scored the winner against Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final back in 2008. His cool head in possession and ability to release United’s speedsters such as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young could prove the difference.
Tevez: Tevez is often held up as a big-game player, yet managers have often overlooked him for key clashes in recent years. In his final season at Old Trafford, he started just one of seven Champions League knockout matches and Mancini went with Aguero and Dzeko in the two European ties Tevez was available for this year.
Scholes: Scholes’ goals tend to come at a crucial time – he’s not the guy who gets on the score sheet with a tap-in once the game’s already won. He hit a 90th minute winner against City at the Etihad Stadium back at a similarly crucial stage of the season two years ago, and four of his last seven league goals have determined the outcome of the game.
Tevez: Based purely on numbers, Tevez undoubtedly has the upper hand. He was the Premier League’s joint top goalscorer last term with 20 strikes in his 31 appearances, while Scholes hasn’t scored more than three league goals in any of the previous four seasons.
A RECALL THE MANAGER WILL REGRET?
Scholes: Scholes has been brilliant for Manchester United so far this year, injecting pace or poise into their game whenever required. They have won all bar one league game in which he has started and the calls for him to go to the European Championships with England this summer are getting louder with every pinpoint pass.
Tevez: City’s Football Development Executive/chief troublemaker Patrick Vieira said United’s move to bring Scholes back was a “sign of weakness”, while Ferguson branded City’s forgiveness of Tevez “desperate”. Miaow. Tevez has looked fresh and busy in his games so far, hitting the net four times and linking brilliantly with Aguero.