The curious case of Michael Carrick

For Manchester United fans that frequent club forums, the idea of debating the abilities of one Mr. Michael Carrick are probably met with a derisive yawn. United fans will assert that Ferguson is obviously happy with the 29 year old England international, and if he’s good enough for Fergie, then that’s that. Case closed.

However, Carrick for one cannot have failed to notice the significant interest Ferguson has shown in the Standard Liege central midfield player Steven Defour. Dubbed the ‘Belgian Fabregas’, Defour is a holding centre midfielder/playmaker… sound familiar yet Michael? Further, with Owen Hargreaves returning to full training with the first team, Carrick is going to face competition for places like never before next term at Old Trafford. With this in mind, Carrick could find his first team opportunities severely limited if next season he replicates the form he has shown in recent months.

Sunday’s match against Liverpool is perhaps characteristic of Carrick’s season thus far. He was unspectacular for most of it (though in fairness, his teammates were not much better), and was culpable for Liverpool’s goal after 5 minutes. Carrick dallied on the ball, and when put under pressure, relinquished possession to Fernando Torres, who ended up finishing the move as Liverpool caught the Champions with a sucker punch.

This incident is not particularly isolated either. Against Wolves at Molineux, better finishing by Sam Volkes would have seen Carrick’s fluffed attempted clearance punished, but Carrick was let of the hook as the player missed an injury time sitter.

Although Carrick is usually tidy in possession, there are those that have, this season especially, questioned Carrick’s ability to pass the ball effectively when put under pressure. Against lesser teams, when given time and space, Carrick can be devastating. However, when under pressure, Carrick is susceptible to a lack of composure. Aside from the examples already stated, Carrick was found out in the Champions League final last year. Barcelona’s pressing game put Manchester United under extreme pressure, and United fans and commentators noted that United probably lost the game in the midfield. Whilst Xavi, Iniesta and Toure are the best around, this is the level that is expected of United players. That night, Carrick simply looked out of his depth.

However, whilst Carrick has been accused of going missing in big games, United’s invisible man has been an integral part of Manchester United’s three consecutive Premier League title victories, as well as their European Cup success in 2007/08. Furthermore, in his first season with the club, Carrick was simply outstanding, and last season, United had the meanest defence in the league and whilst some assert that Carrick cannot tackle, his positional sense allows him to make key interceptions for the team.

Carrick has also been criticized for giving failing to play defence splitting passes. However, whilst Carrick does not claim many assists with 30–40 yard wonder passes, Carrick often sparks Manchester United attacks with a pass made to look more easy than it is, whilst his ability to turn a defence on its heels by picking out a winger from distance is often vital to the way United break away on their opposition.

Carrick’s status in the Manchester United team may be old hat to many who have long made their mind up on the player, one way or another. However, with Hargreaves now looking likely to return sooner rather than later, and Alex Ferguson clearly keen on Steven Dafour, it will be interesting to see how Carrick fairs next season. Whilst he does do much for the team that goes unnoticed, he has been below par for much of the season, and against Liverpool on Sunday he was lackluster in possession-usually the player’s forte. At present, although only 29, he has looked like slowing down rather than reaching his peak and this is something of a concern. For Carrick however, the real worry will come on the opening day next season, when he searches for his name on the United team sheet, surrounded by his new recruits…

You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mark0taurner

 


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