Michael Carrick: Good, but not great
It's now that time of the year when Premier League professionals consider their votes for the PFA Player of the Year, and one must wonder whether Michael Carrick's name will be featuring alongside the inevitable inclusions of Robin van Persie and Juan Mata .
Any player who plays such an integral role to the champions elect is bound to be worthy of consideration, and Carrick has undoubtedly enjoyed his best season at Old Trafford since signing from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006.
Van Persie's gifts and goals may have grabbed many of the plaudits for the Reds this term, but Carrick's quiet and unassuming performances have been just as important to United's overall team demeanour.
His calm and assured distribution provides the base for Sir Alex Ferguson's side to grip games and the 31-year-old has demonstrated a variety to his passing which suggests he's much more than a "short, back and sideways" man.
Now ordinarily I'm not someone who lives and dies by statistics, but it's hard to dismiss this EPLindex article as coincidence considering Carrick's undoubted upturn in form over 2012-13.
Yet, what the numbers do demonstrate is that Carrick's major enhancements have been without—rather than with—the ball.
The EPL index shows that with Carrick, United are conceding 0.4 goals per game and that figure is down by almost half a goal per game on the same criteria from the previous two seasons.
The index also shows that the Wallsend-born player has significantly improved his minutes per tackle, tackle success ratio and number of interceptions made during games, suggesting he has become more effective as a ball-winner than a ball player.
Carrick's pass completion rate of 90 percent is only up marginally on previous seasons and that doesn't even make the list of top five most error-free distributors in the division, whilst other barometers such as passes per game and minutes created per chance are all roughly the same as they were.
Statistically at least, the England international has not particularly seen any great growth when in possession, yet has become more adept in gaining it.
That arguably makes the former West Ham trainee a better all-round individual, and that has been hard to argue against over the past year, but just how good is Michael Carrick?
United colleague Paul Scholes described his midfield partner as a "Rolls Royce" during an interview last January and on various recent phone-ins and internet forums I've heard Carrick labelled as "world class."
Yet I simply cannot agree with any suggestion that Carrick is anything other than a Premier League class player playing well at the moment. He's good, but he isn't great.
To kill this world class analogy off before it gets too far, in his position, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Andrea Pirlo are world class—Carrick isn't fit to lace their boots.
How good is Michael Carrick?
That trio all perform a similar function but with much more style and effectiveness. They dominate games of their own accord, they set the tempo and dictate the rhythm of their sides whether things are going well or not, yet Carrick still only seems to become involved for United when the whole team is on top
If we take it down a rung, how many top European sides would Carrick get in? We can count Barcelona and Real Madrid out immediately and I personally wouldn't even pick him over Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.
We have to remember that since he was ran ragged by Barca at Wembley in 2011, United flopped out of the Champions League group stages last year and were dominated by both Ajax and Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League. Although Ferguson and the whole United side must take collective responsibility, Carrick was amongst the main culprits and many United fans were baying to see the back of him.
He's also never done anything for England, and again although those sentiments can be echoed about many, but genuinely great players don't simply disappear into the mediocrity around them.
Of course people may draw similarities to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard's performances for the Three Lions but at least those two can look back on elongated brilliance—for their clubs at least—both at home and abroad. Carrick cannot.
Even domestically there are foibles over Carrick. He's not scored a Premier League goal in over a year and has also failed to register a direct assist since 2010. Although assists can be misleading and it's often the assist which leads to the assist which is most important, you would still expect a player of his purported class to be conjuring up more opportunities for his team.
In my opinion Carrick is currently performing better than he ever has done, but that really is a criticism of his previous form rather than a testament to any newfound brilliance.
I am not denying he has been a key cog in the Manchester United machine of late, but he seems to have found a niche which suits and he is revelling in that role.
He can pass effectively without being incisive and has added a functionality to his game which is helping ease the burden on his defence, yet I really cannot view Carrick as anything other than Premier League class player playing well, and a few months of positive performances cannot mask a decade of indifference.
for more, follow me on Twitter @bainesyDiego10