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Carrick's injury has left United's midfield looking vulnerable. Brendon Netto discusses the midfielder's importance & why Moyes must be spot on with his team selections.

 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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Manchester United’s midfield conundrum has been much talked about and dissected to a point where it’s simply criminal that the issue hasn’t been resolved. Another transfer window coasted by this summer with big names linked to Old Trafford but alas, the solitary signing of Marouane Fellaini did little to aid an ailing department that’s been battling on for a years and will now be hurled into unflattering light with Michael Carrick ruled out for 6 to 8 weeks.

Who knew that when Sir Alex Ferguson was adjudged to have ‘overpaid’ for the then Tottenham Hotspur midfielder back in 2006, he was actually investing in the very foundation of the team’s new era as the influence of the Class of ’92 gradually began to wane.

In the coming years United’s midfield lynchpin Paul Scholes entered the twilight of his career as Gary Neville soon called time on his while Ryan Giggs also regressed into a bit-part role (which he continues to extend). Carrick was called upon to take over the baton from the ginger-haired midfield conductor and has since orchestrated United’s success albeit with notes rather more subtle but equally serenating nonetheless.

Carrick's injury is a massive blow for United

What’s been most impressive of Carrick’s emergence is the lack of support he’s had around him. When Scholes was in his prime, he had the ultimate midfield general partnering him in the tenacious Roy Keane.

In stark contrast, Carrick has spent most of the last few seasons lining up alongside several midfielders, all of whom haven’t been up to the mark, something that’s been reflected in their inability to establish themselves in the first team.

At times, the English international has almost been a one-man midfield for United and while you’ll never see him making lung-bursting runs to support either the attack or defense, his positional sense is one of his greatest assets and he has the uncanny knack of being right where he’s needed most. His ability to retain, recycle and distribute possession is a quality none of his current teammates share and that’s precisely why United will desperately miss him.

Carrick hasn't had the luxury of a competent & regular midfield partner

At the club's annual award ceremony at the end of last season, Robin van Persie predictably won the Fans Player of the Year award having scored 30 goals in his debut season. However, it was Carrick who walked away as the Players Player of the Year and that's a testament to how much his colleagues recognize and value his contribution to the team.

David Moyes is well aware of how integral Carrick is but will now have to dip into his squad to find a fix. That’s easier said than done though but there are a few signs that suggest that the Scot can still steer United through this period if he picks the right midfield combinations for the right games.

Despite Fellaini’s slow start to life at Old Trafford, Tom Cleverley’s inconsistency and Anderson’s exile from the first team, Moyes has watched young Phil Jones grow in stature this season, cutting an imposing and bustling figure when deployed in midfield. The 21 year-old has made great progress this term having enjoyed an injury-free stint of late which has seen him feature in all but three of United’s games this season.

Following his performance in the first half against Arsenal when he started in midfield, there’s a growing belief that Jones could fill in for Carrick. In fact, he featured in the middle of the park in two of the three games the 32 year-old missed this season.

Jones to the rescue?

Incidentally, United comfortably won 3-1 and 4-0 against Fulham and Norwich City respectively on those two occasions while they were frustrated away to Real Sociedad where Fellaini and Giggs oversaw a 0-0 draw.

In the home game against Sociedad however, Giggs was sensational beside Carrick and pretty much ran the game. The hosts missed a plethora of chances in what was one of United’s better displays this season and the 1-0 score-line flattered the Spanish outfit as it could and should have been much more.

That game established the fact that the aging Welshman can still dominate in United’s midfield against the right opposition if they’re going to enjoy possession, particularly at home. Moyes would do well to use his creativity and attacking intent against the lesser sides.

Giggs will have a part to play

Games against West Ham United and Newcastle United at home or even Aston Villa away could be good fixtures in which to play Giggs while Fellaini is an option to partner him to maintain the right balance. However, Jones and Cleverley must be the preferred pairing in games that demand a bit of pace and energy in the middle of the park, like Tottenham or Bayer Leverkusen away from home.

Darren Fletcher is not yet match fit and so he, along with Anderson, may only be bit part players during this period. The likes of Fellaini and Cleverley in particular must raise their games. Fortunately, Van Persie has been given a rest during the international break and if he and Wayne Rooney are kept fit and firing on all cylinders, their goals should help United win most of their games even without the calming influence of Carrick in the side.

It’s this kind of set-back that Ferguson used to deal with supremely. Whether it was Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic sidelined, Eric Cantona banned for eight months or Keane and Scholes suspended for a Champions League final, the Scot always found a way to succeed despite such setbacks. Now Moyes must prove his worth through his team selections and management of a squad that despite its frailties is still far stronger than he’s been used to in the past.

Can United cope without Carrick? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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