After Manchester United downed Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday, football pundits hailed Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie as the star players of the Red Devils’ narrow win over their arch-rivals.
However, while the two strikers were being rightly credited for their respective outputs, a player whose pivotal yet largely unspectacular performance failed to garner the news headlines in the same vein like his fellow teammates, was former Tottenham Hotspur star Michael Carrick.
Paired up alongside the promising Tom Cleverley against the reliable trio of Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard, Carrick continued his rich streak of form by producing a near-flawless display for United.
Operating just in front of the back-four, Carrick orchestrated the Red Devils’ plays with sheer understated excellence- showcasing his inch-perfect vision and passing skills to pick out his attacking colleagues, making himself always available to receive balls from the defenders and virtually acting as the field general of the United side.
Moreover, although Ferguson’s troops lacked any imposing physical presence in the midfield, Carrick’s intelligent reading of the game and astute defensive skills, that helped him win his personal tactical duel with Gerrard, proved to be of huge significance for the home-side in breaking down Liverpool’s attempt to employ a 'tiki-taka' style.
The former West Ham man closely marked the England captain and didn’t give Gerrard an inch of comfort on the ball by literally intercepting all the passes directed towards the Liverpool midfielder.
With their prime provider of ammunition to the attackers failing to exert an influence on the game and both Lucas and Allen struggling to establish a strong foothold, Liverpool’s attackers were isolated upfront, allowing United to easily dominate the proceedings.
Statistics too indicate Carrick’s efficiency and impact against his side’s bitter challengers.
Out of the 67 passes that he made, 86% reached its receipients successfully, while Carrick also won five tackles and made six interceptions - clearly an impressive record for a player who is not even a traditional defensive-midfielder.
Carrick has been a largely underrated commodity at the Theatre of Dreams for the past 18 months or so. Even during the crucial must-win ties, Carrick has always stood out for Manchester United and never disappointed the club’s fans and the manager. Only last month when the Red Devils visited the daunting Etihad Stadium, Carrick put in a wondrous performance in the middle of the park.
Not only did he completely shut down the mercurial David Silva to mitigate City’s threat upfront, the Englishman was also the hub of all of United’s highly devastating counter-attacks.
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What consequently resulted in was a thrilling win for the away side, but as has been the story since quite some time now, Carrick’s tireless actions were overshadowed by his fellow compatriots’ heroics.
Once labelled as the scapegoat for all of United’s losses, Carrick has now clearly evolved into the catalyst for the club’s bid to regain English supremacy. The manner he dictates the tempo of a match, while also providing shield to the backline is unique and frankly, only valued by his teammates and some sections of the fans.
Yes, he did lack the required confidence on the ball during the first couple of seasons at the Old Trafford and still struggles with pace, but Carrick has shown massive improvements with his ball retention attributes and passing abilities to deem him as an invaluable asset for the Red Devils.
Nonetheless, the disappointing fact is that people still consider him the same player who once was embarrassingly slaughtered by the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta during the Champions League final between United and Barcelona at Rome and Wembley in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
However it must be noted that the whole team was at fault during those two games and not Carrick in particular. As United boss Sir Alex Ferguson stated before the start of the season, Carrick can be without doubt regarded as one the best central midfielder in England.
"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 and Gerrard."
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