If Michael Carrick was a darts player, you would expect him to hit the bullseye nine times out of ten. Such is the accuracy of this passing master, Carrick has asserted himself as a veteran of the United midfield and even in the defence if required. The Englishman’s composure, leadership and pin-point accuracy have not gone unnoticed by the Old Trafford faithful. Yes, Michael Carrick is truly loved by the Red half of Manchester. Yet with the season’s first game now just days away, why is it that I still have to doubt what Carrick’s contribution will be to this new look Manchester United squad? At 34 years of age it is unlikely he will be able to take part in all Manchester United games. With a number of new and exciting signings and potential midfield pairings, Carrick fans face a nervous wait to see where he fits in Louis van Gaal’s puzzle.
United have been blessed with the more than handy additions of proven performers Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger over this trading period. The former has slowly but surely become one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League after leading Southampton’s resurgence to the top half of the table over the past few years. The latter needs no introduction. The first German player to pull on a Manchester United shirt has won all there is to win with Bayern Munich. Add a World Cup trophy and United fans are sure to be salivating over what Schweinsteiger can bring to the club.
But is there room for all three in the manager’s starting line up? I find it hard to believe there is. Especially with Van Gaal, according to the official Manchester United website, recently stating that a 4-3-3 will be his preferred formation this season.
So what pairing will Louis van Gaal go for?
Firstly, United fans have no need to worry. This current squad has three world class central defensive midfielders that will be sure to cause opposition midfielders some serious discomfort. They all possess similar skills; passing accuracy, composure and calmness on the ball and the desire to get forward and have a shot. In fact, even all three of the options are experienced leaders in their own right.
Who is leading the race then to start for United against Tottenham Hotspur? It seems difficult to split the three. On the basis of the pre-season tour, although I would be reluctant to put all my faith into what we saw in the Reds’ tour of the United States, Van Gaal prefers Schneiderlin to partner Carrick in the middle of the park. However, Schweinsteiger did get a fair amount of game time while carrying a niggling injury.
A pre-season tour is a time to experiment with team line-ups and that is exactly what Van Gaal did. Therefore, it is still no certainty that Schweinsteiger misses out just because he started on the bench more times than not in the USA.
But I do think he will.
For United, it is a non-negotiable that Schneiderlin must play. At 25 the French international will play a pivotal role in the redevelopment of the ‘new’ Manchester United over at least the next five years and hopefully more. And with Carrick and Schweinsteiger both over the age of 30, he must quickly become used to Van Gaal’s style of play and assert himself as a Scholes like figure in the heart of United’s side. With a promising pre-season tour, Schneiderlin seems to have settled in well at his new club and will certainly be looking forward to heavy game time this season.
With one position left in United’s starting centre midfield pairing, I believe it will be Schweinsteiger who narrowly misses out this weekend against Tottenham.
This World Cup winner and a legend of Bayern Munich, arguably the best European team of the past few years, may have to start as a bench warmer for his new club. A tough gig for one of Europe’s best and toughest midfielders we have seen this decade. It is not because he is not good enough; it is because what Carrick brings to Manchester United cannot be replaced.
Statistically, Michael Carrick’s influence on Manchester United performances is unmatched by any current member of the playing squad. According to the official Manchester United website, last season United lost just one game of the sixteen that he started in, whether that be in the midfield or defence. Manchester United fans have come to rest a lot of hope on Carrick’s shoulders over the past two years as the club has gone through a transformation of sorts.
Carrick brings an understanding of Manchester United, perhaps only matched by Wayne Rooney. Only Rooney and Jonny Evans have been playing at United longer than Michael Carrick. Situated in such an integral part of the ground, controlling play from the back and the front, Carrick’s longevity and experience as a Red is something that neither Schneiderlin nor Schweinsteiger can cover.
As I said previously, all three players possess a similar skill set. The depth in the midfield this season is encouraging with Daley Blind also able to play in the defensive midfield position when required. It is this midfield depth that has been lacking at Manchester United following the retirements of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. It is why this new look team can go a long way to challenging for titles this season.
But some attributes of a midfielder cannot be covered by midfield depth and seemingly like-for-like replacements.
I expect that Carrick, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin will rotate regularly between the middle of the park, adding an element of unpredictability to Louis Van Gaal’s team. At 34 Michael Carrick cannot be playing every week, although he did reveal in a recent interview to manutd.com that he is as fit as ever.
However, it will take time for the two new midfield signings to find their feet at Manchester United.
Until they do and barring any unfortunate injuries, expect Michael Carrick to feature regularly in Louis Van Gaal’s starting line-up.
The article was researched and written by Sean Wales. You can follow him on Twitter.