Paul Scholes views the resumption of the Champions League as the beginning of the end for Manchester United this season. Although United are not in action this week, the resumption of hostilities across Europe, including last night's mouthwatering clash between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium, marks the emergence from the depths of winter.
And for Scholes, it is also the start of a run-in to what he hopes will be a glorious end to the season. "It's the sign for the run-in," said the veteran midfielder. "It just kind of happens without you knowing it. You know there are 12 games left in the league, the FA Cup is getting down to the latter stages and Europe is starting again.
"Every game becomes more important. It is the time to stand up and start playing."
United could not have made a better start, securing a derby-day victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford. As that result – and Chelsea's failure to overcome Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday – has virtually turned the title race into a straight fight between United and Arsenal, the Red Devils could do with Arsène Wenger's men coming out on top in north London this evening.
On the basis that the more matches Arsenal have to play, the less likely they are able to eat into United's four-point advantage at the top of the table, it will presumably be the same on Sunday, when the Gunners make a short journey to Leyton Orient in the FA Cup.
However, Scholes only has eyes for non-league Crawley, and then Didier Deschamps' Marseilles, who stand between United and a place in the quarter-finals, where they lost in agonising fashion to Bayern Munich last season. "Marseille won't be easy," he said.
"It's a tough place. We played there before quite a few years ago and got beaten."
Meanwhile, Sunderland defender Michael Turner is hoping to be fit for their Premier League match against Everton in nine days' time. The centre-back has been out of action since damaging knee ligaments in November but has now returned to full training.
Steve Bruce's side have missed Turner's physical presence during a run of three defeats in a row, to Chelsea, Stoke and Tottenham.
Their previously tight defence has been leaking goals at an alarming rate, particularly from set-pieces, but Turner remains confident a top-six spot is within range.
He said: "It's up to me to get back fit and get back into the team. It would be nice to come back into a team who are doing well and flying high, though.
"The last three results haven't been great, but I'm sure coming into the last 11 games of the season that we can kick on. Liverpool seem to have turned a corner a little bit and they're showing some form. But we've still got to play them at home. There are some big games coming up but if we can win those we're in there with a shout."Reuse content