Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes says Andrea Pirlo will "destroy" England if Roy Hodgson does not deploy someone to man-mark the Italy when the two teams meet at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Scholes thinks Pirlo will pose England the biggest threat when the teams meet in their Group D opener in Manaus on June 14.
Pirlo may be 35-years-old, but Scholes still regards him as "the world's greatest playmaker." The former England international remembers how then-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson used Park Jisung to muzzle Pirlo in a UEFA Champions League encounter against AC Milan, three years after watching the Italian tear the Red Devils apart in the same competition.
Scholes thinks Hodgson missed a trick by not fielding a player to stifle Pirlo at UEFA EURO 2012 and the former United man believes the England manager cannot afford to make the same mistake again.
"Pirlo is the complete footballer. Give him time and space and he will destroy you," Scholes wrote on his online blog. "He's such a clever player and is so composed. If surrounded he'll lay it off. If he's got room he's devastating.
"Even though England's EURO 2012 game against Italy finished 0-0, we paid nowhere near enough attention to him. Pirlo is not renowned for his athleticism, and he's 35 now, but that day he ran 11.58 kilometres, more than any England player.
"He also had more passes (131) than England's four starting midfielders. Roy Hodgson seems to have underestimated him in 2012, which surprised me given Alex Ferguson tactics previously to stifle Pirlo. We cannot make the mistakes of 2012 again."
Scholes believes the right man to muzzle Pirlo in the jungle is his former United team-mate Danny Welbeck. Ferguson used Welbeck to try to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet during United's Champions League match against Real Madrid two seasons ago. Now Scholes thinks Welbeck - a player who has often divided opinion among England fans - should do the same job on Pirlo in Brazil.
"Park Ji-sung was the perfect man for Pirlo in 2010 and never gave him kick (in a 7-2 aggregate victory)," Scholes said. "For Manaus, we need an 'English Park Jisung' - one England player designated to man-mark him.
"Looking at the squad, Danny Welbeck - a good defender who can nick the ball well - could be an option and would be a bold decision, one which gives England a creative outlet, and saddles Pirlo with defensive work. I think the best we can hope for is a draw against Italy if we manage the heat, and we can beat Uruguay and Costa Rica," he said.
One potential problem Scholes foresees is in defence, where he has doubts over the ability of Glen Johnson. Scholes started fearing the worst for England at the back after seeing Peru cause Hodgson's men problems on the counter-attack at Wembley last Friday.
"At times Peru still looked like they could get in and score, especially down England's right where we looked vulnerable," said the 39-year-old, who won 66 caps for England. When you see a team like Peru exposing it, imagine what [Luis] Suarez or [Edinson] Cavani might do, or other world class players in the later stages? James Milner or Jordan Henderson could be asked to give Glen Johnson extra cover down the right - when Johnson goes forward it leaves spaces and Gary Cahill will be exposed. It's got me worried."