While the influence of the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney cannot be overstated enough at Manchester United, there are also a select few professionals who are extremely pivotal to the squad. These underrated, consummate professionals go about their job passionately, giving nothing short of 100 percent, yet are continuously overlooked.
On the global scale, no player is as exemplified as the unsung hero than Claude Makalele. Recently, Scott Parker and Sergio Busquets have been forced into the limelight on account of their extraordinary abilities. At Manchester United too, there are some players who are equally integral to the team as Rooney and Van Persie.
Until last season, he was the Old Trafford fans’ favourite Red Devil to cast their scorn upon. To most, he was simply an average player capable of passing only backwards and sideways. He was criticized of slowing the game down, offering next-to-nothing defensively and unlike in the mould of illustrious midfielders like Xabi Alonso or Xavi.
However, the Englishman has slowly won the crowd over in his favour. His presence has been applauded greatly this season, and most fans have come around and realized the immensity that is Michael Carrick.
Carrick’s defensive abilities are absolutely superb—he closes space down well, tracks back frequently and can tackle cleanly (unlike Paul Scholes who couldn’t tackle to save his life). He has great positioning and does not burst forward unnecessarily; hence, he provides opportunities for full-backs like Rafael and Patrice Evra to join the offensive.
Furthermore, his distribution is absolutely impeccable and he quickly moves into open spaces to provide an outlet.
Sir Alex recently proclaimed:
I think he's been magnificent. It's his best-ever season at the club and he's commanding that position. He's doing absolutely brilliantly. Even when he came on against West Ham, he helped ease us through the last 20 minutes. Good players do that. He came on and settled us down.
Carrick also frequently ranks in as one of the best passers of the ball (via WhoScored).
Speaking to The Telegraph, Sir Alex hailed Carrick as the lynchpin of United.
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.
With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones both sidelined with injuries at the start of the season, Rafael was bestowed with the opportunity to feature as the first-choice right-back. Needless to say, he has been exceptional at the role.
Often guilty last season of bursting forward too often and failing to track back properly, Rafael has improved tremendously and looks composed and assured for the most part.
Last season, he combined exceptionally well with Antonio Valencia, providing the Ecuadorian with space on the right flank by doubling with him and exchanging quick passes. However, this season Valencia has not been as impressive as last season, but Rafael, on the other hand, has shown his ability to combine well with other players as well.
Despite the formation changes in midfield, Rafael has remained consistent and provided a strong channel for offensive build-up also.
Sir Alex hailed his performances this season, stating:
He's maturing and learning all the time and he's blessed with great enthusiasm to play. He has good skill, speed, determination... he has all the qualities and maturity brings all those qualities together. Bit by bit he's done that in the last two or three years. Last year and the year before he was impulsive, over-commiting himself. He knows that and we've been over it a few times. But he's maturing fantastically.
In a recent interview, Jonny Evans hailed Rafael as the team-mate who had impressed him the most.
I actually think Rafael has done really well. He has shown real maturity. His brother has gone out on loan now and it’s probably given him a lot more responsibility. Because of the injuries, too, there hasn’t been much competition for him at right back so he has really stepped into the position and made it his own.
Blamed viciously by fans for the 6-1 drubbing by Manchester City, Evans was never a fan favourite and was constantly held liable for any defensive lapses. Only after the injury of Nemanja Vidic did people start considering Jonny Evans as a commanding prospect at central-defence.
After Vidic’s injury, Evans slotted in perfectly and provided consistent performances and formed a stable partnership with Rio Ferdinand.
Sir Alex Ferguson has heaped praise upon the Northern Irishman, proclaiming:
Jonny has risen through the ranks to become an integral part of the first team squad. . . . And he is still young. As a 24-year-old a centre-back he should be playing for the next 10 years. Hopefully it will be for United.
Currently out with a ham-string injury, Evans’ return must surely be a conundrum for Ferguson. Evans, like Vidic and Ferdinand, likes to take charge of the defence, and it is a sign of things to come. Speaking with Inside United, Evans said:
I’d like to think it’s always been a part of my game. It’s hard when you first come into the squad because I was never going to be able to do that. I was thinking to myself, ‘How can I tell these lads where they should be’? But then in a short period of time, you gain that respect from your team-mates and the confidence to say something that needs to be said. Communication is a massive part of being a defender. I think it makes your job so much easier if you can speak and tell someone to move five yards one way, or two yards the other way. Small things like that make a big difference to your own game and it helps your team-mates out too.
Is Hernandez an underrated player or an overrated one? It usually depends on the people you pose the question towards. To me, he is a massively underrated player. A classic poacher, Hernandez plays on the shoulder of the last defender, and despite not being as well-rounded as his illustrious compatriots in Rooney and Van Persie, he scores goals. And by the plentiful.
Despite Sir Alex Ferguson not employing his favoured 4-4-2 which would have allowed two strikers to operate centrally, Hernandez has found playing time on account of his impressive goal scoring ability. With already 12 goals and two assists to his name, Chicarito is quickly establishing himself and presenting Sir Alex a hard time with his selection policy. Ferguson has indeed admitted that the Mexican presents him with a “terrible” selection dilemma.
It's a terrible dilemma when I've got that lad there. Sometimes I leave him out to bring in Robin van Persie but, as I explain to him, we regard him so highly. He's a fantastic professional, unbelievable attitude to the game, never stops running or working and every training session is the same. So I'm really pleased for him and it is also good to see Wayne back scoring.
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