Manchester United legend Paul Scholes has revealed his admiration for Manchester City right-back Pablo Zabaleta ahead of Sunday lunchtime’s derby at the Etihad Stadium.
Signed from Espanyol in the summer of 2008 for around £6.45 million, Zabaleta has steadily established himself as one of the Premier League’s top defenders during his six seasons in England, making 237 total appearances, while winning two league titles, the FA Cup in 2011 and the League Cup in 2014.
Also named to the 2012-13 PFA team of the Season, Scholes remembers his various encounters with him well and, though City regulars such as David Silva and Sergio Aguero often steal the headlines, he believes the Argentine international is just as important to Manuel Pellegrini’s line-up.
‘Players like David Silva and Sergio Aguero are very important, but for me Pablo Zabaleta is a crucial part of the way City play,’ he wrote in his column for the Independent. ‘He has been the best full-back in the Premier League for the past two seasons.
‘As far as United are concerned, on Sunday a lot will rest on how Luke Shaw handles Zabaleta down that left side. There is no full-back better at bombing on than Zabaleta. If United are to be successful, Shaw needs to stop him – and push back the other way.
‘I have always rated Zabaleta highly,' he continued. 'From a more personal point of view, it was telling that he never made a meal of the challenge that got me sent off in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley [a challenge that looked a lot worse on television than it really was].
‘He is one of those tough Argentinian players. In the last derby I played in, which City won 1-0 in April 2012, Zabaleta was excellent. He kept getting in behind us and causing problems. As a team it was a poor United performance that night.
‘It will be interesting to see who Manuel Pellegrini plays down the right side of midfield. If it is Zabaleta and James Milner, that will put a lot of pressure on Angel Di Maria to support Shaw when United don’t have the ball. If United are not alive to the threat, Milner – or whoever plays on the left side – could push on to Shaw, while Zabaleta makes runs off Di Maria.’