Manchester United Focus – Carrick enjoying strong start to season

After suffering a stuttering start to the season last time round, Michael Carrick is enjoying a strong start to the 2012-13 campaign. The 31-year-old scored United’s only goal in the 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Wednesday’s Champion League opener, highlighting the influence that the midfielder can impose on his team’s play.

Carrick struggled with injury in the early stages of last season, and didn’t hit his stride until late November, when he began to exert his influence at the heart of United’s side. In the final 25 league fixtures in which he featured in the centre of midfield, Carrick attempted and completed the most number of passes of any player on the pitch in 19 of these games. Even with the return of Paul Scholes from retirement, the West Ham academy graduate still exerted a huge amount of control over United’s play and retention of possession.

Sir Alex Ferguson referenced Carrick’s perceived slow starts to the season back in July, adding: “By the time he gets to December he starts playing consistently well and he had a really good end of the season last year.” This time round however, despite starting the first two games at centre half due to injuries, the midfielder has hit the ground running, and will look to continue his good form as the deposed champions embark upon a run of league games that sees them play away at Liverpool, Newcastle and Chelsea in three of their next five fixtures.

It could be argued that Carrick has benefitted from a summer of rest following his omission from the England Euro 2012 squad, thanks mainly to his reluctance to be involved with the national team as a peripheral figure. The composed, often metronomic, control that Carrick offers would have been influential to an England team that was once again criticised for it’s lack of ball retention. He was recalled by Roy Hodgson for the August friendly against Italy, in which Carrick was impressive and helped the national side to a 2-1 victory against the team that knocked them out of the Euros.

In a Manchester United side that has been denounced for it’s perceived weakness in the middle of the pitch, Carrick continues to provide the constant that enables his team to build from defence, and allow the attacking players to impose themselves on the opposition. The £18.6m signing is now in his seventh season at Old Trafford, and is the first choice in a midfield that sees the rotation of the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Anderson, amongst others.

Carrick’s winner against Galatasaray was a demonstration of his elegance, as he strode forward to swap passes with Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, before selling the goalkeeper with a swivel of his hips. It was an example of the finesse with which he plays, that often goes unnoticed due to his usual deep-lying position.

The United midfield is somewhat ever-changing at present, but in the words of his manager, “Carrick is the key to it“.

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