Manchester United’s place in next season’s Champions League looks all-but secure due to the faltering form of others such as Liverpool and Tottenham, while Louis van Gaal’s side have been much improved of late.
The Old Trafford outfit recorded crucial victories over the afore-mentioned duo to give them breathing space in the hunt for the top four, but have taken the foot off the gas in recent weeks.
Defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge could be condoned to some extent, but a 3-0 loss to Everton at the weekend was arguably their worst performance of the season.
Given that United have gone from a side that looked to be finally clicking to one that has lost their last two games, it deserves some inspection into why Van Gaal’s side have fallen so dramatically from grace.
It is no coincidence that United’s dip in results has coincided with the unavailability of Michael Carrick, who missed both defeats over recent weeks.
The under-rated veteran midfielder has become a crucial player for the historic club over a number of seasons, but his influence is as pertinent now as at any time in his nine seasons in Manchester.
The fact of the matter is that the former West Ham and Tottenham deep-lying playmaker has a unique skillset, which is not possessed by any other player in the United squad.
Carrick’s control of the game can perhaps go slightly unnoticed given the more eye-catching exploits of more attack-focused team-mates, but his role in dictating play is second-to-none.
The 33-year-old also brings a superlative range of passing and excellent positional sense to the United team when he is in it, while he is not afraid of putting his foot in to halt opposition attacks.
In recent weeks, Van Gaal has used both Ander Herrera and Daley Blind in the holding midfield role in his 4-1-4-1 formation.
Although both are excellent footballers and players that will continue to play a part in the United first team, neither seemed to have the ability to dominate a game the way that Carrick can.
Herrera is an excellent distributor of the football, but he is more suited to a pass-and-move style of play rather than having the discipline to sit deep and pick out long-range passes.
His lack of physical presence also makes the United team look slightly less imposing and it is clear that the Spaniard is better suited to a role in front of Carrick.
Blind has the energy, work-rate and tenacity to fulfil the defensive side of the role, but is nowhere near the cultured footballer that the Englishman represents.
Carrick has started 16 Premier League games this season and United have won 12 of them.
Despite the expected arrival of new stars this summer, the veteran Englishman has an important role to play in United’s return to English football’s elite.