Scholes happy to exchange jet-setting for domestic duty

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The Independent Football

Paul Scholes is confident Manchester United will benefit from a more "normal" second half to the season. United complete a memorable 2008 against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford tonight, needing a victory to keep themselves in touch with Liverpool and Chelsea as they look to complete a Premier League title hat-trick.

United might well be in the thick of battle but are two games behind their main rivals after diversions at the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup in Japan. "It is nice to be back and be able to concentrate on the other competitions," said Scholes, who returned to the side after a knee injury for the 1-0 win at Stoke on Boxing Day.

"That is not to say anything about the Japan trip. But now we can really concentrate on the league, the Champions League and the two domestic cups – which are important to us."

Brazilian full-back Rafael da Silva may be introduced into a youthful United defence missing both Rio Ferdinand, who is resting a worrying back problem, and Patrice Evra – serving a four-match ban.

Changes are almost certain in midfield, but most interest will surround the possible return of record-signing Dimitar Berbatov – who travelled to Japan but picked up a virus en route, which ensured he played no part in the tournament itself.

For Middlesbrough, manager Gareth Southgate is set to bring back David Wheater to shore up his back-line after the central defender returned from injury to a place on the bench against Everton. And Southgate also has options up front with Brazilian Afonso Alves pushing for a recall, but Frenchman Didier Digard is ruled out with a groin strain.