If anyone doubted Michael Carrick’s importance to Louis van Gaal’s Mancheseter United side, then the defeat at Stamford Bridge followed by the humbling at Goodison Park made it clear for all to see. Thoughts of Van Gaal having turned the tide at Old Trafford may have been premature and it is down to their over reliance on their 33 year old midfielder.
In seventeen starts this term Carrick has only tasted defeat once, half the amount than in the last two in his absence. With him United purr like a well-oiled supercar, playing with swagger and elegance, without their midfield pivot they more resemble a clapped out Mini Metro; lots of effort but with no verve or forward momentum.
Against Chelsea, United performed well; plenty of style but little in anything of substance, but in that performance they showed that there could maybe a future without the England international. However, their performance against Everton was a nasty glimpse into their early season struggles, panicked and rushed at the back and no great composure in midfield, simply put they were over ran and over ran by Gareth Barry, no mean feat.
It’s not simply the forward passes and momentum he offers to his side but it is consummate calmness and leadership; with Carrick playing he makes his defence look like an Italy side from the 80’s, without him the keystone cops.
Back in December Van Gaal suggested that his side’s improved form with Carrick playing was nothing more than a pleasant coincidence, if the Dutchman was pressed again he may not be so dismissive of his midfield general’s influence.
Manchester United’s quest for a return to Champions League football is being ably assisted by their rivals Liverpool’s end of season capitulation and with a seven point cushion it seems destined they will finish in the top four. However, if United are to attract the calibre of player they need to fully readjust back to life at the pinnacle of European football they must finish strongly. In order to do this it is becoming more and more apparent they must keep the former Tottenham midfielder wrapped in cotton wool.
This summer Van Gaal has much to do in evolving his United side, many will feel he needs some A-List superstars to further add to his developing side. But it may come to prove that his most important signing is to acquire an able deputy for his central midfielder, if they are to truly challenge they either need someone to step up to the plate or wish for a miracle where Carrick can play every week.
Thankfully for those fans on the Stretford End, their manager seems to understand this and has recently highlighted that a defensive midfielder is his number one priority
United fans enjoyed poking fun at Liverpool, their struggles following Suarez’s departure highlighting just how much of a one man team they were, before that the same criticism was levelled with Gerrard. But United are becoming dangerously close to being the ultimate one man team, one man turns a side from title challengers to Europa League also-rans.