The key to football is having the ball. It may seem an obvious statement but one that is understated by many. Barcelona are the masters of it and success comes as a result.
If you keep the ball then you create chances, score goals and, most importantly, don’t concede. If you do this well then you win a football match.
To have a good football team, you need players who are capable of passing the ball to a player in the same colour. Whether it’s three-yards backwards or a 40-yard wonder ball, keeping the ball ultimately wins you matches.
It is a trait which Michael Carrick is very good at. The Englishmen has been a vital part of Manchester United’s trophy machine for the past five seasons, playing 143 times since his move from Tottenham in 2006.
There can be no doubt that he was one of many reasons why United won the league three times in a row between 2006 and 2009, his superb range of passing creating many goal scoring opportunities.
Since then, though, Carrick has played in a different role. It was a move forced upon Sir Alex by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world, and Carlos Tevez in the summer of 2009.
But what hasn’t changed is the quality he brings to the side, it may not be as obvious but just as important as before.
Carrick’s job now is to sit in front of the back four, break up moves and begin an attack for his own team. It’s something which he excels at but is yet criticised by many observers.
Perhaps the stats will explain why he is considered such a valuable member of the team. Not only does he boast the highest amount of interceptions a game at 4.38 but he also has the highest pass success ratio of any starting regular in the league having completed 780 out of 898 attempted passes, in other words 86.9%.
Now, they’re pretty impressive stats by anyones standards but it won’t satisfy some people. The main criticism of Carrick is that, although he passes well, he only passes it backwards or 3 yards.
Not only is this view reactionary but it also comes back to what I stated earlier. Football is all about keeping the ball, it is vital in the modern game. Passing the ball to defenders and fellow midfielders is what you do in order to start moves.
There’s no point of picking the ball up in your own half and then attempting a 40-yard pass which will more than likely fail. Why not keep your composure and simply slide it a few yards to your left or right and slowly create an attack.
Anyway, this view of Carrick is simply not true. Take a look at these graphics below from the Champions League match with Marseille. The chart on the left is particularly interesting as it shows that Carrick completed four out of seven ‘long’ passes and 30 ‘medium’ range passes.
You can also see that from the graphic on the right, Carrick is very willing to play the ball to the wide men, thus allowing for an attack to build.
Another criticism of Carrick is that he’s not very mobile and stays central. Well again this is simply not true. On Tuesday, he travelled the most distance than any other player on the pitch, 11.5k, emphasizing his superior fitness and desire to succeed.
Add to this that Carrick is very disciplined, having not picked up a single yellow card all season, and you have the complete defensive midfielder. Yes, he may not be as directly involved in goal scoring opportunities as he was in previous years but he is just as important, perhaps more, in his new role.
Maybe a fourth league title in five years since he joined United will convince fans that he is an integral part of the side and will be for years to come.
Written by James Heneghan at the excellent Red Flag Flying High