Michael Carrick injured his ankle at arguably the worst time a player could get injured. As Louis van Gaal acquaints himself with his best eleven, Carrick’s reputation for setting the tempo of a match and perfectly weighting the all-important “Hollywood” pass to a striker may go unnoticed.
But, in typical van Gaal fashion, we must be bluntly honest. Watching Carrick in 2012-2013 was a perpetual joy as he deservedly picked up the 2013 Manchester United Player of the Year award. Yet 2013-2014 felt like an unmitigated disaster; my knee jerk impulse screamed that we should be shipping Carrick out with the rest of our underperforming and aging players. That was until I looked at the stats.
Even though commentators like Roy Keane roundly criticized Carrick, the statistics show that, since 2011, Carrick has maintained his form in areas like passing accuracy and long balls, even improving in key areas like interceptions. Though the two areas we should all focus on are the number of passes completed and the number of tackles.
First, pass completion. In the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, Carrick completed 2192 and 2774 passes, respectively. In 2013-2014, he only completed 2051 passes. The dip of 700 passes from the last two seasons could be down to Moyes’s conservative tactics and the team’s failure to play the free-flowing football we got so used to under Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Louis van Gaal, United could likely return to playing the style Sir Alex Ferguson impressed upon the players. A healthy Carrick could easily fit back into that system.
Secondly, the number of Carrick’s tackles dropped off a cliff in the 2013-2014 season. Carrick made 90 and 83 tackles in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, respectively. Yet fans only saw Carrick make 61 tackles in 2013-2014. This is a difficult statistic to explain away. The significant dip in passing and the team’s overall failure to perform suggest that opposing teams possessed the ball more, which would leave more opportunities for tackles. Again, this could be down to Moyes sending Carrick on with a less tackle-heavy role than under Sir Alex.
Given Carrick’s consistent production over the past several years, he deserves a chance when he comes back from injury in October. The question is where would he play?
Gary Neville recently said that Carrick would thrive as the middle centre-back position in van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation “in certain games.” I thoroughly enjoy his punditry and analysis but I don’t know what Neville is talking about here. While Carrick has filled in admirably at centre-back at times, he has never had the physical strength, aerial determination or the positioning sense to protect David De Gea or Edwin van der Sar. No, Carrick is still ideally suited to a deep-lying role in the center of the park. Yet it is difficult to see what Carrick offers that Ander Herrera doesn’t. What we would ideally need next to Herrera is a ball-winning midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder like Artuto Vidal or Kevin Strootman, or, more likely, Darren Fletcher. Fletcher may not be as strong a passer as Carrick, but offers more defensive cover for the back three. This is something that Evans, Smalling, and Jones would desperately need in the opening months of the season as they adjust to van Gaal’s system.
Van Gaal should give Carrick a chance when he returns from injury, but his long-term place in the team depends on whether United signs Arturo Vidal or if Darren Fletcher stamps his mark on the holding midfield position beside Herrera.
This article was written by Kush Govani, who is part of our Academy writing team. Please make your comment on this article if you agree or disagree with the comments raised in this article.