Manchester United Club Focus – Underrated Carrick finally getting recognition after slow start to season

In the first half of the season Michael Carrick’s form was a subject of debate amongst some Manchester United supporters.

The hype around Tom Cleverley’s promotion to the first team had been whipped up thanks to an impressive display against Barcelona in pre-season and continued good performances in the Community Shield and the first three league games of the campaign. Carrick meanwhile had begun the season carrying an injury, initially being ruled out of the Wembley opener against Manchester City. He started the game however, but was substituted for Cleverley at half-time with his side trailing 2-0.

The youngster was playing with dynamism and a lack of fear, whereas Carrick’s style is a lot more about retention of possession and keeping the flow of passing ticking. Some United supporters can be heard complaining of the number of sideways passes that Carrick attempts, but the former Tottenham and West Ham man has a strong understanding of when to keep the ball moving, and when to play a short forward pass rather than a speculative 60-yarder. This is the principle of the ‘tiki-taka’ style of play that has brought Barcelona such success.

Carrick was an unused substitute for the three league games that Cleverley excelled in at the start of the season, and did not gain his full fitness until a run in the side that commenced with a start against Swansea on November 19. United won that game 1-0 in what was a very difficult test at the Liberty Stadium, and Carrick was the game’s star passer, with a 96% success rate from almost a hundred attempts.

The criticism Carrick has received at times for keeping his passing simple and helping United maintain control of games would never be levelled at his returned partner in the centre of United’s midfield, Paul Scholes. Carrick this week told the Manchester Evening News of the “massive impact” Scholes’ return has had on the United side, which has also helped his own performances pick up thanks to the experience Scholes possesses to help United impose themselves on lesser opponents.

With the two playing in unison there are more options for the simple short ball that also creates space further up the pitch for United’s forwards, whilst both players have the ability to pick out teammates at longer range. Perhaps Carrick can continue to learn from Scholes in respect of the trajectory with which he can pass the ball, as the elder statesman is able to hit his man with a flatter delivery that gives defenders less time to position themselves.

Without the pair in tandem against Wigan, United struggled to exert control over their opposition in the middle of the park. United didn’t get their passing game going, which was crucial in their poor performance.

It looks like Scholes will carry on for at least another season, which will give Carrick more time to learn from one of the very finest midfielders this country has ever produced, and help him boss the midfield himself.

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