In Manchester United’s Champions League tie on Wednesday against Besiktas, with time was running out and United chasing an equaliser, Sir Alex Ferguson finally took action and took Darron Gibson off and replaced him with Michael Carrick.
It appeared the praise Ferguson had given Gibson in the warm up to the game had affected him as his performance was wholly underwhelming and he struggled to impose himself on the game. So when Michael Carrick was introduced, it was hoped his seniority and experience would allow him to succeed where Gibson had failed. But if it was even possible Carrick in his 15 minute cameo showed even less than Gibson had and it was endemic of his recent performances.
Last weekend, when Carrick scored against Everton it masked the fact that he has been underperforming for quite a while, especially anonymous in United’s disappointing showing in their 2-0 defeat at Anfield. To say his performances have been flat would be an understatement especially when compared to the bustling Darren Fletcher. His vision has been off and where as his passing is usually sublime recently it has been uncharacteristically poor.
Carrick was included in United’s squad for every league match when fit last season but for the finale away to Hull City, when Ferguson rested most of his first-team regulars. But at the start of this season when it became all too evident that Carrick was not performing at the level expected of him, Ferguson acted and was forced to drop him.
When Carrick first joined United people were astounded at the £16m it cost to bring him to Old Trafford but the classy midfielder soon showed why Ferguson had spent such money as he helped United to their first Premier League title since 2003. His range of passing complimented players like Ronaldo and Rooney who were only too grateful for such service, and he also found the net himself with 6 goals, 2 of which came in United’s 7-1 thrashing of Roma. The following season with the arrival of Anderson and Owen Hargreaves it was thought that he could struggle to maintain his place in the team and after breaking his elbow in a game against Roma, many wondered how he would get back into the team but Carrick did so making 49 appearances including the full 120 minutes of the Champions League final where he also scored a penalty.
The following season Carrick grabbed the winner against Wigan that left United needing just 1 point out of 2 games to lift the Premier League trophy for the 3rd time in a row. But this goal masked the fact that his performances in the second half of the season had been poor. It was never more evident than in the Champions League final against Barcelona where he (and the whole midfield) had a hard task keeping up with Xavi, Iniesta & co
So what has happened to cause such a dip in form? The fact that Carrick is looking so disinterested is only being highlighted further by the performances of players like Ryan Giggs who seems as fresh as his first season and Darren Fletcher who has steadily worked his way into contention as one of United’s best players.
Anderson faced the same situation at the start of the season and after dropping into the reserves (of his own will) he returned with a better attitude and improved performances, so maybe Carrick needs a similar kick up the backside to re-spark him back to form.
A good performance against Wolfsburg in October led many to believe that he had finally found form after Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to excuse him by claiming Carrick is a slow starter but he has yet to find anything similar to the form that made him an integral part of league winning teams at Old Trafford.