Man Utd Focus - Carrick dominating amidst numerous improvements at Old Trafford
Michael Carrick has been one of the most outstanding performers for Manchester United so far this season. He has been instrumental in taking his side 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League, along with a number of other improved performers at Old Trafford.
The midfielder is dominating games in a manner that is finally gaining widespread recognition, as was requested of him at the start of the campaign by Sir Alex Ferguson. The manager referred to Carrick as the key to his team, and has been rewarded with some excellent displays from a player that has been almost ever-present for the deposed champions.
Now 31, Carrick is showing real maturity in marshalling United's midfield, which has been of great significance in that he has been the only man that Ferguson has been able to consistently call on in the centre of the park. The Englishman has started the most league games for United, along with Patrice Evra, missing only one of their 22 fixtures so far. He perpetually tops the passing charts in terms of completion, forward passes and passes in the final third, adding to his influence on the ball with solid defensive contributions and interceptions, helping protect what has been a suspect backline.
Of course, Carrick has been ably assisted by the imperious Robin van Persie, who has provided great improvement up front. The Dutchman already has 17 league goals to his name, and has brought an assured calmness and instinctive edge to United's attacking play.
The Reds have scored 15 more goals that second-placed Manchester City, hitting four in both fixtures against Wigan, and also against Stoke, Reading and Newcastle, but not going on to any bigger scores as yet. The manager will be hoping that the presence of van Persie will help bring along Sunday's surprise man of the match, Danny Welbeck. The young striker is yet to hit top form this season, but playing alongside the reigning PFA Player of the Year can only aid his development.
A player who has improved greatly this season is full-back Rafael da Silva. The Brazilian has been a consistent starter for the first time in his United career, and has developed into the manager's first choice right-back. He has been heavily relied on - only Carrick and Evra have started more games - and has shown maturity in his play in addition to the attacking capabilities he has always displayed.
Over on the other flank, Evra has been resurgent this campaign, weighing in with goals and assists, but more importantly showing improvement in his defensive responsibilities. He was considered to be in decline after a poor season last year by his own high standards. Perhaps the signing of Alexander Büttner has been one of Ferguson's shrewdest ever moves, coaxing a renaissance out of one of Old Trafford's most loved players.
Amid members of the squad that have enhanced United's fortunes, there are others with room for improvement, notably Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian was dropped against Liverpool, and could face further competition should Wilfried Zaha arrive from Crystal Palace, in addition to Luis Nani's return from injury.
Valencia admitted to playing through injury this season, but needs to rediscover the form that makes him the most effective right-winger in the country on his day. Similarly Nemanja Vidic returning to form and fitness would be a huge boost for the Reds.
The final piece of the jigsaw at Old Trafford could be the return of Wayne Rooney. The forward is yet to hit consistent levels of performance, but if he hits his stride alongside van Persie with Carrick pulling the strings behind them, it could be the catalyst to United's 20th league title.
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