To this day, Sir Alex Ferguson remains haunted by his side’s 2008/09 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona. Despite the stellar abilities of the Catalan side, Ferguson remains irked by the way that several components of his midfield allowed themselves to get sucked into the ‘carousel’ of Barcelona’s passing game. In the absences of tenacious ballwinners Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson were the men instructed to stop the talents of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. However, the pair dismally failed to do so, with that night in Rome seemingly acting as a catalyst for slumps in the pair’s respective Manchester United careers.
Michael Carrick arrived at Old Trafford in 2006 after Manchester United had gone three seasons without winning the Premier League. His arrival coincided with the side’s return to the Premier League throne, with Manchester United going on to win three Premier League crowns and one Champions League trophy in his first three seasons at the club. The successor to Roy Keane’s number 16 shirt, Carrick’s disciplined passing and positional awareness was cited as a key contributory factor to United’s resurgence, with Barcelona playmaker Xavi highlighting the England international as Manchester United’s main threat prior to the 2009 Champions League final.
Since that night, Michael Carrick has failed to reach the high standards of his first three seasons at Old Trafford, with many becoming aware of the midfielder’s shortcomings. Described by detractors as languid and pedestrian, Carrick’s tendency to get caught in the possession or get knocked off the ball was frequently detrimental to his side last season. Several portions of the Manchester United fan base pinpoint the moment Carrick allowed Bayern Munich forward Ivica Olic to score at Old Trafford as the turning point in the side’s ill-fated Champions League second-leg tie with Bayern Munich. Sir Alex Ferguson is also known to have been displeased with Carrick’s anonymous display in the first leg of that two-legged affair in Bavaria. Carrick, previously thought by many to be almost ‘undroppable’, was left out of Manchester United’s key Premier League games against Manchester City and Chelsea before and after the clash with Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, thus visually indicating his manager’s displeasure with his dip in form.
However, Carrick’s slump has not been anywhere near as bad as colleague Anderson’s fall from grace. Signed from Porto in the summer of 2007 as the long-term successor to United stalwart Paul Scholes, Anderson now appears to be in the last chance saloon at Old Trafford. Although the Brazilian midfielder’s season was ended early by injury, prior to this, the midfielder had been criticised for his performances (most notably against Manchester City in a Carling Cup clash) and fined for indiscipline. Of the 19 games that Anderson started during 2009/10, Anderson only completed nine of them, having been substituted ten times. Several sources have suggested that Anderson’s Old Trafford career may be about to draw to a close, with the Brazilian rumoured to have been offered as makeweight in proposed deals to sign Lyon’s Hugo Lloris and Benfica’s Angel di Maria.
Manchester United’s failure to win an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title will have undoubtedly irritated Sir Alex Ferguson. With the diminished prominence of Paul Scholes, Manchester United are bereft of a goal-scoring midfielder to match the likes of Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. Between them, Carrick and Anderson managed just six goals and eight assists last season, a combined tally that is simply not good enough for a club challenging for the game’s top honours. With the money from last summer’s sale of Cristiano Ronaldo still burning a hole in his back pocket, it is unsurprising to hear the 68-year-old linked with swoops for creative midfield maestros Luka Modric and David Silva. Should Sir Alex make a swoop for either of these players, it may spell the end for one of Manchester United’s much-maligned midfielders.
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