Two defeats in succession have served as a bit of a reality check for Manchester United after a fantastic run of results saw them win six on the bounce since losing to Swansea back in February.
Impressive wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City went along way to cementing their place in the top four, and even had them eyeing up second place for a brief period.
At the heart of these fine performances was Michael Carrick who once again showed his importance to the team with a string of fine displays where he both scored and created goals.
Unfortunately for the 33-year-old and his team, the calf injury he picked up in their demolition of rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford has coincided with the team’s dip in form that has underlined his value to the team even more.
While there was certainly no shame in losing out to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in a game the Red Devils dominated throughout, their following display at Everton brought back painful memories of recent seasons where they were second best once again.
A 3-0 defeat was hugely disappointing, but their poor performance warranted nothing more, but the effect of Carrick’s absence in the middle of the park was clear for all to see.
It’s certainly no coincidence that since his injury, results have taken a turn for the worse. While Wayne Rooney filled in at Stamford Bridge, it’s certainly not the position United would have wanted him in and had he been playing upfront the result may well have been different.
Rooney returned to his preferred place upfront on Sunday, and it was Daley Blind’s turn to fill the void left by the midfield maestro, something that certainly didn’t go to plan.
Blind came out second best in the game as the Everton midfield gave United all sorts of problems, with the first goal in particular a sign of their frailty at the back when Carrick is not in the side.
The England international’s experience means he possesses great awareness and positioning that help snuff out attacks and all in all make the team look far more solid when defending. But take him out, and they can fall to pieces as they did on a few occasions at Goodison Park.
His composure on the ball and ability to retain possession make him a vital part of the style of play Louis van Gaal has incorporated into the team, and often underrated at times; the way he links defence and attack is crucial to the side and their results.
Carrick has started 17 matches this season, and has been on the losing side only once. This in itself tells you all you need to know about his importance to the team. Following their latest defeat it was revealed United’s win ratio with him in the side was over 72%, compared with under 38% when he is absent; another damming statistic.
At 33, while he may be ageing he is as important as ever to United and someone they clearly can’t function as effectively without. It’s certainly a worry for Van Gaal, and ensuring they have sufficient cover for him is something the Dutchman will need to address this summer if his side are to make a push for the Premier League title next season.
For the time being, they must focus on picking up the last few points required from their final four games to ensure Champions League qualification. And while they should have no problem in doing that thanks to Liverpool’s poor run of form, the job will be made a great deal easier if they can get Carrick back in the team sooner rather than later.