According to Sir Alex Ferguson, the largest factor in last season’s 20th league title for Manchester United (aside from the signing of Robin van Persie) was the week-in and week-out performances of midfielder Michael Carrick. The legendary manager had been Carrick’s biggest defender over the course of the player’s first seven seasons at the club. The midfielder’s ability and importance had been the target of many questions from United’s supporters over that period. But despite the criticism, Ferguson kept writing Carrick’s name on the team sheet week after week.
His faith was ultimately rewarded as Carrick carried the full load of United’s midfield responsibilities (following the retirement of Paul Scholes) and even lined up in central defense for the club. Rio Ferdinand called Carrick “the most under-rated and under-valued player in the league.”
Nemanja Vidic spoke of Carrick’s importance amongst his teammates:
“From the players’ point of view, Michael is a very important player for us. He brings a lot of balance to the team – he’s a link between defense and attack. Maybe he’s not the most attractive footballer – he doesn’t often do fancy tricks – but for our team he plays a key role. He takes up good positions so the defenders can always pass to him and he defends very well. He’s a top player and has a lot of passion for the game.”
Members of the media followed suit and began to shower the 32-year-old midfielder with praise. And during their run to a 20th league title, United’s supporters seemed to finally embrace the Geordie midfielder as they added his name to the long list of in-game songs: “It’s Carrick! You knooow! It’s hard to believe it’s not Scholes!”
Following Manchester United latest win over Arsenal, the club has been greeted with the disturbing news that they will be without the services of Michael Carrick for up to six weeks due to an Achilles injury (the actual time frame is between four and six weeks). That is disheartening news for a club which was already paper-thin at the midfield position.
Looking over United’s first team squad, the club does appear to have depth at the position with internationals Tom Cleverley (England) and Marouane Fellaini (Belgium) as some of the more recognizable names to take Carrick’s place. But Cleverley has been inconsistent and Fellaini has been carrying an injury (wrist) and has yet to find a role on his new team, while Brazilian midfielder Anderson has become a ‘forgotten man’ due to his inconsistency and nagging injuries.
Darren Fletcher has also been playing with United’s Under-21s, but he hasn’t taken part in a Premier League contest for some time now and is still a long way from being match-fit.
United are coming off their best team performance of the early season. It is going to take that kind of group effort and focus to make up for the loss of Carrick. Of course the question will be asked, “Is one player really that important?” The answer to that question is simply, “yes”.
Carrick has a special ability to read the game and intercept opposing passes which takes some pressure off United’s defenders. He also looks to link the play all the time. He’s very aware of making ‘the next pass’ and rarely gives the ball away. Over the past four seasons, Carrick has completed about 90% of his passes. He has also been one of the busiest midfielders in the Premier League. In 2012-13, he only trailed Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey in making more passes per 90 minutes. Carrick also excelled at finding the ‘killer’ pass to send Rooney and Van Persie into scoring areas.
Last season, the midfielder made 42 appearances, including starts in 34 of United’s 38 league fixtures. Carrick was ultimately named to the PFA Team of the Year. So it looks like United will have to rally the troops (much like they did this past weekend against Arsenal) to cover for the loss of their midfield boss.
The club doesn’t have much time to lick its wounds. Following the international break, United will play six matches in sixteen days, including two important Champions League fixtures. Their next league match at Cardiff City, which has proven to be a fortress and a cauldron of noise (just ask Manchester City). Three days later, the Red Devils make a trip to Germany to face Bayern Leverkusen, followed by a visit to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham. Shortly after the match with Spurs, United face-off at home with David Moyes’ former club, Everton, followed by usually cagey encounter with Newcastle United. They finish off this busy portion of their fixture list with what could be a ‘win or go home’ Champions League match versus Shakhtar Donetsk in the Theatre of Dreams.
The makeup of the club was questioned prior to the match with Arsenal this past weekend and United were able to answer those questions. Their renewed focus and determination will again be put to the test over the next four to six weeks. How will the champions respond to their latest challenge? We shall see.
Editor’s note: For more Red Devils news, analysis and opinion, visit our Manchester United team page.