It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written, the reason being that the most recent discussions on football have left me dispassionate. I didn’t care about the World Cup bids and their destinations and don’t talk to me about current football fashion issues. If anything the last few weeks have been the same old stories covered in depth. The continuing will they/won’t they of Liverpool’s season, the surprising form of Bolton, Blackpool and West Brom, the insanity on Tyneside and the problems at Chelsea. All of which have been ably covered on this site already. What has brought me back though is a tantalising weekend of football where the fixture boffins have given us last year’s top four squaring off against each other. It is one of those games, at Old Trafford, that a routine thing will happen in a game that is very rarely routine.
Michael Carrick will have very little influence on the game. If anything Carrick is more of a liability than an asset to the current United set-up. Take their most recent game for example, it was Carrick who gave the ball away for Valencia’s only goal and United’s only goal conceded in the tournament so far. Mistakes happen though and if anything a mistake by Carrick is the exception rather than the rule, however his performance beyond that was the rule. Slow, methodical and lightweight Carrick didn’t influence the game one iota. That is the story of his European career, the games against Bayern last year and the Barcelona final of the year before show a player who doesn’t belong on the biggest stage in England or European football.
None of this is to say that Michael Carrick is anything other than a very good player, it’s just that he serves no purpose in Manchester United’s midfield. Carrick is an exceptionally composed midfielder who is usually unflappable and unerring with his passing. He can settle a game down with a few well chosen touches and ensure that his team maintains possession. The problem is that these particular qualities are not necessary in a team who were once famous for the counter-attacking and who have a culture of attacking football. As evidenced by the below Carrick will usually play the ball sideways rather than forwards.
This is not unusual for a midfielder in 2010, many technically limited players will play the ball sideways to a more talented colleague. However, Carrick is not a technically limited player, however he is a creativity black hole. Carrick lacks the imagination of players who possess his passing ability but put it to better use. Of course Carrick is not alone in the United midfield, he shares the pitch with Darren Fletcher a midfield dynamo who does exert his influence on the game. Fletcher doesn’t tackle more and doesn’t score more but his engine means that he will often be found further up the pitch than Carrick which leads to more assists. Carrick currently has zero assists this season even in a team that put seven past Blackburn. The same also applies to a player currently enjoying a mini-renaissance in Anderson. Much like Nani has seemingly come to fruition after a few seasons as a maybe player, Anderson was (according to reports) being sent to Brazil in January. If that were to take place (it won’t) it would be genuinely surprising. Granted it has only been two games but in those two games Anderson has looked very good, nearing a hundred attempted passes you can see (below) that his first thought was to bring the ball forward.
The reason I’ve selected the Blackburn game as an example is that even in a match where Manchester United were dominant Carrick failed to have any attacking influence unlike players who have a much worse reputation than he at Old Trafford.
So, what to do? Well, in my opinion Carrick is unnecessary in Manchester United’s midfield. Darren Fletcher plays the role of midfield dynamo, Anderson/Giggs/Park provide the attacking intent and ostensibly Carrick and Scholes are the deep lying play-makers. However, as shown Carrick is not much of a playmaker. His attributes do not suit themselves to a counter-attacking side in the mould of United, instead his abilities are good for a team who need to get their foot on the ball and relieve pressure through possession. A team like Everton or Stoke could benefit from his metronome-like precision, that would represent a significant step down in stature for Carrick but would be where his talents are best utilised.
For Manchester United Carrick’s current role could be filled in by any youth midfielder not prone to mistakes with no detriment to their play or results, however his ideal replacement (tough tackler with some passing ability), is already at the club but crocked. Owen Hargreaves’ reputation has only risen in his prolonged absence as United and England have craved his play. Carrick was included the England World Cup squad but failed to play a single minute. According to Football365 (who have decried Carrick for some time)
“Four years after the mauling in the San Siro prompted a strategic re-think, United are still bereft of the defensive shield that Ferguson has implicitly acknowledged is imperative if they are to succeed.”
Players of the caliber needed are few and far between rumours have swirled regarding Bastian Schwiensteiger who would fit the role perfectly but looks unlikely to leave Bayern in the near future.
Come Monday night when United take on Arsenal don’t be surprised if you don’t notice Michael Carrick, no one really does. He won’t make any mistakes but he won’t set up any goals either, he’ll just be there as usual, taking up space, slowing the game down and infuriating me. One last chalkboard before we go, the much maligned Mikel who plays the screening role for Chelsea in the exact same fixture this season.For an opposing view with the same kind of analysis (except done much, much better) click here.