“It’s Carrick, you know. Hard to believe it’s not Scholes”
You could imagine that there are not too many people who are mixing the two United players up. Instead, the chant that now fills Old Trafford every week is much more likely to be a result of the fans finally coming of age when appreciating the multi-talents of Michael Carrick. The fact that the Stretford end would even compare him to arguably the finest footballer of his generation says a lot about how highly they now rate Michael. Having previously played a much deeper role at the club from midfield, Michael has been pushed further up the pitch and the changes that this has had on his game are clear for all to see. He has no longer been restricted by the bane of possession football and has been allowed to express himself in a way much more fitting to his fantastic abilities, something which I addressed earlier this season.
So what’s he been doing right? Well, for starters he hasn’t been doing anything wrong. Although I’m a massive fan of the 31 year old, even I’m willing to admit that he was prone to the odd mistake here and there over the past few seasons. This season however has seen him improve his concentration levels throughout the entirety of the games and the campaign as a whole, and so I’m struggling to think of an example this season where we’ve conceded directly as a result of a Michael Carrick mistake. On average, Carrick has lost possession once every 210 minutes this season, an astonishing figured when compared to last season, 93.
The number of games that the Geordie has played over the past few seasons is a great indication as to how highly Sir Alex rates the boy and so it seems that Michael is finally beginning to understand the responsibility on his shoulders, something which I feel is reflecting in his game. Not only is he sharper on the ball when retaining possession, and much more likely to express himself when passing rather than just keep the ball moving from side-to-side, Carrick is no longer being bullied out of the game by physically challenging oppositions. Instead, he’s getting stuck in and stamping his authority in nearly every game he’s played. Stats from Opta show that he’s average a tackle every 28 minutes and winning 72.13% of those duels as opposed to one every 38 minutes last season with him winning only 67.68%. In the air he’s a lot more commanding too with him entering an aerial challenge once every 79.62 minutes compared to the previous season of only one challenge per 228.45 minutes.
His reading of the game is my personal favourite attribute of his, especially when watching him defend. Carrick now wins possession once every 12 minutes, bettering his impressive record last season of an interception every 19 minutes. Gary Neville, many people’s favourite pundit who’s known for his tactical awareness analyses just how good Michael is at closing down players and gaps in the midfield area.
His passing has been brilliant all season too with him always looking comfortable on the ball even when under pressure. There is hardly ever a time when he looks like he’s panicking but instead he somehow nearly always finds his teammates with a clever pass. His movement off the ball is a sight to behold too with him always showing for the ball from midfield, an aspect of his game which is often overlooked by many. Thanks to his willingness to drop back and his positioning when dropping deep from the centre of the pitch, he’s creating an easy option for the defenders to pass to which effectively relieves a lot of pressure off the United defence and helps the team keep possession of the ball rather than have us hoof the ball up the field and lose the ball cheaply.
When you take into account the number of midfield partners that have accompanied him in the centre of midfield this season, it makes you wonder just how good Carrick’s form would be like if he actually had a midfield partner who was in a similar class as himself, say Yaya Toure. Rooney, Kagawa, Jones, Cleverley, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Powell and Fletcher have all been challenging for a midfield spot at one point or another this season and yet Michael Carrick has been the first name on the sheet every single time. His teammates have taken notice too as you see by the praise Rio Ferdinand has sung on the midfielder: “Michael is the most under-rated and under-valued player in the league. He is laid back and plays at his own pace, so he always goes unnoticed. But he is valued highly by each member of our squad. He has stepped up. You just wish players like that didn’t have to go through their careers searching for accolades.”
If I were to summarise the man’s season in one instance it would have to be his reverse-pass to set up our opening goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup with Hernandez putting us 1-0 up with a brilliant header. As good as the finish was, and it was a brilliant one, the pass to make it happen was extraordinary to say the least and should take all the plaudits. In fact, there are not many players on Earth who would have the sheer audacity to even try it in a game, let alone pull it off. I would go as far as saying that the Michael Carrick of three years ago wouldn’t have managed that pass either.
Whenever I go to watch a United game live, which is only around 5 or 6 times a season, I tend to use that precious time to focus all my attention onto one player only. Before, I would keep my eyes glued on Cristiano Ronaldo because I knew he would produce a moment of magic in the blink of an eye. After his departure, my attention would be fixed on either Dimitar Berbatov or/and Paul Scholes, both of whom I adore. Since Dimi has departed to Fulham and Scholes nowhere to be seen, my new player to stalk from the stands is Michael Carrick, and for that, and all the reasons listed above, he has to be my player of the season.
So let’s hear it one more time, “It’s Carrick, you know…”
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