Michael Carrick: Analysing His Tactical Importance to Manchester United
Robin van Persie is Manchester United's goal poacher extraordinaire, Wayne Rooney the versatile talisman. The attacking philosophy has been laid out before our very eyes—if you score three, we'll score four.
But who holds the fort when Rafael bursts forward? Who protects the slowing centre-backs from vicious counterattacking moves? Of course, it's Michael Carrick.
It's become rather fashionable to praise the unsung hero, but in Carrick's case the praise is fully justified.
Spanish football aficionados recognise Sergio Busquets as the second-most important player in the Barcelona team behind Lionel Messi. Was it any surprise, then, that in private conversation B/R's Lead Writer Will Tidey labelled Carrick United's second-most important player?
In the modern day game, you don't need tacklers the same way you used to. There's no call for it. It's about anticipation and reading the game.
Carrick can read the game and also play in front of the back four.
If you look at the central midfielders in the Premier League, he can match up against any of them in terms of quality—the likes of [Luka] Modric, Yaya Toure, those are probably the best central midfielders.
The fact that Ferguson openly states this means Red Devils fans are never likely to see an Etienne Capoue-esque destroyer at Old Trafford while he remains in charge.
The French midfielder plays the game at full speed all game long, and it's arguable that his constant movement allows attackers to drift one or two yards away from him, thus making it necessary for him to hound them.
When Carrick plays football, it almost feels like it's in slow motion.
Is it a coincidence that he's equidistant between the two players who represent a threat to his side in this phase of play? Not at all. He may stroll around, but he does so with purpose and intent.
If there's proof of that, it came just minutes later. Luis Suarez attempted to latch onto a threaded ball from Stewart Downing. With Patrice Evra beaten, Carrick came tearing in to make the interception and calmly pass the ball out from defence.
He's nowhere near as quick as Suarez—how did he beat him to the ball?
Perfect positioning. The exact thing Sir Alex Ferguson touched upon before the game, professing the strength of Carrick's ability to read the game and stay two steps ahead of everything, all the time.
Watch Carrick closely. Watch Frank Lampard closely. They turn their heads rapidly every two seconds so they know exactly who is where on the field. That's what quality players do.
Here, you can see Carrick's regular position when his side are piling pressure on the opposition.
He sits behind Tom Cleverley, who joins in with the attack, and often provides an outlet to enable Manchester United to maintain spells of pressure in the enemy's territory.
Like a metronome, he keeps the ball ticking over. He's not a Joe Allen; his passes are often positive and vertical. He completed 56 of 67 attempts at Old Trafford on Sunday, and his passing chart differs greatly from Allen's.
The only thing he struggles with is when he's outmatched physically by a number of players. His intelligence allows him to get away with beating one quicker player to the ball, but when several physical specimens flood the field he struggles.
Jordan Henderson had considerable joy in the final 10 minutes, and it was only his busy nature that troubled the holding midfielder.
It's too late for him to fix that now as it's impossible for him to get any quicker, but what he already is remains a fine shielding midfielder—the type Yann M'vila can aspire to become.
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