Alan Hansen believes the recent return of Manchester United legend Paul Scholes and the departure of Yaya Toure from Manchester City, could prove the defining moment in the Premier League title race.
Hansen believes the title winning knowhow of Scholes will have provided Manchester United with a timely fillip as they bid to maintain the pace on their rivals Manchester City. Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to negotiate a host of injuries to key personnel this season and yet they remain within touching distance of Roberto Mancini's side.
While Manchester United have welcomed back the aforementioned Scholes, Manchester City will have to manage without Yaya Toure due to the African Nations Cup. Hansen, who eight league titles at Anfield during his playing career, believes the Ivorian title winning experiences at Nou Camp will be sorely missed during his City hiatus.
Likewise the Match of the Day pundit believes the suspension of Vincent Kompany will make Mancini's job even harder over the coming weeks, as Manchester United look to increase the pressure on their bitter Premier League rivals.
"Manchester City's problem is that their two best players this season, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Touré, won't be there to help them." Hansen told The Daily Telegraph. "Those two, along with David Silva, have been shining lights for City this year, but Kompany still has three games to run on his suspension and Touré will be away until mid-February with Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.
"Across Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson has been very clever by restoring Paul Scholes to the Manchester United squad because, despite being 37, his sheer presence in the dressing room and alongside the club's younger players has given the whole team a lift and brought knowledge and experience into the equation at a crucial time.
Hansen believes the absence of Yaya Toure, whose trophy winning experiences at Barcelona will be sorely missed by Manchester City this month because of the African Nations Cup, is in direct contrast to Manchester United due to the recent return of Paul Scholes.
The Match of the Day pundit believes Scholes brings a level of experience that money simply cannot buy, and intimates Manchester United remain in a strong position in the Premier League title race despite their chronic injury problems because of that experience.
"In times of trouble, players such as (Yaya) Touré are the ones who bail you out, but he could be away for another seven or eight games yet. That is why Ferguson's decision to bring Scholes back could be so crucial for Manchester United.
"For guys who haven't been down the road of winning a title, there is a natural inclination to look to those that have. Even (Manchester) United, who have experienced title run-ins many times, rely on experience at key moments.
"It is why, despite being light years behind the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham in terms of quality this season, they are somehow joint top of the Premier League. So putting Scholes back into the picture only adds to their advantage over City and Spurs in that crucial area."
While suggesting Scholes' playing powers are evidently on the wane, the midfielder was brought back to Old Trafford for far more than his on pitch presence. Manchester United will benefit from having Scholes back in and amongst the setup, and his return has perhaps even put greater pressure on Manchester City ahead of their game at the DW Stadium on Monday night.
"A manager might sign the most exciting 17 year-old on the planet, but if he isn't quite ready, his arrival would not generate the same kind of uplift that Scholes has given Manchester United." Hansen continued.
"If his performance against Bolton on Saturday was that of a 27-year-old Paul Scholes, you would have said that he was awful, but his influence on Manchester United went beyond his actual playing capabilities. It is all about him simply being around the place.
"Manchester City are suffering from the opposite effect having lost the services of Kompany and Touré. They are massive losses to Mancini and his team. It is at times like this that top managers earn their money, however, by making big calls in tough situations."
Manchester United's 3-0 victory over Bolton on Saturday drew Sir Alex Ferguson's side level on points with Manchester City, and their stand-in captain Patrice Evra suggests if the Red Devils can stay in touch with Mancini's side whilst negotiating a lengthy injury list, the title is theirs for the taking.
"We still have some injuries but when everyone is fit, it will give us the strength to win the title. We need to rest and focus on the next game. We're going to win the league." The Manchester United defender told The Sun.