I realise that Michael Carrick isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. The Manchester United midfielder has been the target of a fair amount of flak this season, from both his own fans and neutral observers. He arrived at Old Trafford from Spurs with a huge price tag (£18.6m) and an even bigger point to prove. He may have impressed in Tottenham colours, but could he do the job at arguably the biggest club in the country? The fact that he was handed Roy Keane’s number 16 shirt was even more of a sign of the trust placed within the midfielder.
Has Michael Carrick rewarded that trust? On some occasions: yes. On other occasions he’s looked lost, incapable or just plain sloppy.
This week, however, when United took on Chelsea in the Champions League, Carrick put in an astonishingly good performance. He was my MOTM. He helped Manchester United get creative in the first-half, controlling the flow of the game through the midfield and changed his game in the second-half as Chelsea started to assert their dominance by adopting a more defensive style.
In the first half, where Manchester United were working with a 4-4-2 formation and attempting to shock Chelsea, Carrick was absolutely fantastic. He picked out passes, found runners, got in the faces of Chelsea players and was, for a little while the best player on the pitch. The second-half saw a more defensive performance from Carrick, as Chelsea turned the screw, but he handled the responsibilities just as ably.
He was given responsibility and he excelled. Why is it then we don’t see this Carrick week-in, week-out in the Premier League?
Far too often Carrick is the purveyor of lifeless, passive performances. If his passing game is off, he often has very little to offer. He doesn’t snap into tackles in the same way Scholes does. He doesn’t bomb forward in the same fashion as Anderson.
Performances such as the one Carrick served up last night should give fans pause to think. Why is it that he’s not doing this every week? What is it about the way Manchester United is set-up that doesn’t allow him to play his best football? In many ways I think Carrick has been set-up as something of a scapegoat for United’s failings over the last couple of seasons.
I would suggest that Carrick is at his best when he’s at the centre of an attacking, free-flowing team performance. He’s not the kind of player that likes to get stuck in, but if his side are already dominating, if the strikers are making good runs, he can pull the strings and make things happen. I strikes me that the way United are set-up, the way they approach every game, fails to do any favours to Michael Carrick – who is expected to scrap it out in the centre of midfield.
Whilst the more combative Scholes was expected both to do this and to provide the passes that start off the United attacks, Carrick simply isn’t good enough to offer both. As such, it’s not Carrick’s fault – he’s been handed a role that he’s not accustomed to, that he doesn’t have the stones to pull off. On his day he’s an excellent player, as we saw last night, but in the midst of this United set-up over the course of a season, he will get found out.
Read more of Harry’s articles at the excellent This Is Futbol