Michael Carrick is a rare breed of central midfielder, limited in terms of goals and energy yet subtly influential through his anticipatory defending, technical quality and cultured passing range.
There’s no doubt the impact he’s had on Manchester United this season; with the England international in the starting Xi, they’ve dropped a miserly six points from a possible 42 in the Premier League, losing only Southampton in January, but without him they’ve claimed just 23 points from 45, amid prolonged injury bouts from August to November and January to March.
The former Tottenham and West Ham star’s age, however, creates quite the dilemma. At 33, the Red Devils need to find a likeminded successor to Carrick over the next two summers, or else face a similar dearth of quality in central midfield that plagued them immediately following Paul Scholes’ retirement in summer 2013.
With that in mind, and being the ever-helpful bunch we are at Football Fancast, we’ve listed FIVE such midfielders that could potentially step into Carrick’s shoes.
Kicking off this list is a bit of a wildcard, yet one that shares a number of key attributes with Manchester United’s Michael Carrick.
Like the England international, Ki Sung Yeung isn’t the most noticeable of midfielders, lacking the dynamic physicality common in the Premier League and limiting himself, on average, to just one shot at goal per match.
But the South Korean international’s blend of work-rate, intelligence and quality in possession – this term recording the fourth-best pass completion rate, 89.6%, of any midfielder in the Premier League – underpins the efforts of a Swansea midfield that Lee Dixon views as the best in the division outside of the top four.
At 26 years of age, and having now demonstrated his class at Celtic, Sunderland and Swansea, moving to a major club now could propel Yeung’s game to a higher level – and we all know how much Manchester United like their shirt sales in Asia.
With three years remaining on his current contract however, the Welsh side are under no obligation to sell.
Another slightly hipster suggestion that’s not seen much attention in the tabloids is Borussia Monchengladbach’s Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international, who represented his country at the last World Cup, has been compared to Steven Gerrard and Bastian Schweinsteiger before, sharing, in particular, their robust upper-body strength and definitive long-range passing game.
In addition to averaging an impressive 88 passes per match this term, Xabi Alonso, Johannes Geis and Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker are the only Bundesliga midfielders to surpass Xhaka’s return of 7.1 accurate long passes each game.
At 22 years of age, the midfielder is still some way from the finishes article. But he boasts plenty of experience at the highest level, registering 27 appearances in Europe throughout spells with Gladbach and Basel in addition 33 caps for Switzerland.
For a United side being rebuilt from the ground up with an added emphasis on youth, Xhaka could be the perfect candidate.
From Europe’s elite clubs, PSG’s Marco Verratti stands out most as a deep-lying midfielder capable of mimicking the kind of service Michael Carrick provides at Manchester United.
He’s a somewhat more progressive presence and whilst Carrick is better-famed for his sturdy consistency, the Italy international is often criticised for attempting the spectacular, even when under immense pressure from the opposition.
That being said, the 22 year-old’s quality as a playmaker, claiming five assists, 87 passes per match and the 19th-best pass competition rate throughout Europe’s five leading top flights this term, remains undoubted, and over the last few seasons he’s become an integral component in a back-to-back title-winning PSG outfit.
Therefore however, the former Pescara star has already been linked with some audacious price-tags. The Metro, for example, valued him at £24million earlier this month, also mooting Manchester City as potential suitors.
A player Manchester United fans will only know too well, Kevin Strootman has been relentlessly mooted as Louis van Gaal’s desired choice of central midfielder by the tabloids ever since his appointment as Old Trafford boss last summer – even admitting his interest in the Roma star back in July.
The 25 year-old lacks Carrick’s cultured passing game, but offers a more dynamic and industrious variety of service, famed for his ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch – epitomised best by returns of five goals, six assists, 47 created chances and 55 successful tackles from 25 Serie A appearances last season.
Furthermore, having occasionally served as captain under Louis van Gaal for the Netherlands, the 25-cap Dutchman is seen as the ideal candidate to operate as the United gaffer’s on-pitch general.
Roma have made it abundantly clear that they’ll only sell for a ridiculous fee however, last summer valuing him at an incredible £79million, whilst recurring knee problems could further deter United’s interest.
With just over twelve months remaining on his current contract, Ilkay Gundogan will enter the summer window as one of its most sought-after players and Manchester United would be wise to get in on the act.
The German international lacks physical presence in terms of height and strength, but makes up for it in abundance with his ruthless energy both on and off the ball.
The 24 year-old first drew attention for his role in the Black-Yellows’ surprise march to the 2013 Champions League final, and although a long-term back injury has limited playing time since, he appears to be getting somewhere closer to his former best, averaging an impressive 1.5 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, 1.1 chances created and 1.4 successful dribbles per match this term, resulting in two goals and three assists in 15 Bundesliga appearances.
Although defensive midfield remains Gundogan’s predominant role, it will take further discipline, especially when choosing to run with the ball at his feet, to successfully step into Carrick’s anchorman shoes.
That being said, his rumoured value of just £18.4million makes the German playmaker well worth the gamble on United’s part.