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The Scot praised the former Tottenham man for his ‘absolutely superb’ form for the Red Devils and reveals that defender Chris Smalling is a doubt for Sunday's clash

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has lavished praise on the central midfield partnership between Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes.

Neither men were starters at the start of the season - Scholes had recently retired before being convinced to return by the Old Trafford boss in January, while Carrick was being overlooked in favor of Darren Ferguson and Tom Cleverley.

But both players now feature heavily for the Red Devils and Sir Alex recognized the impact that Carrick has had on the pitch.

“I know he disagrees but I always feel the second half of the season sees Michael at his best,” said Ferguson. “He is doing that at the moment. His form for quite a while now has been absolutely superb. He and Scholesy are a good partnership.”

Carrick, 30, is likely to start against his former club Tottenham on Sunday, and the England international received further praise from his boss for the low-key approach that he takes towards his career.

“Michael is not a guy that seeks a lot of publicity,” Ferguson continued. “He is a quiet lad. He goes about his life in a similar way to Paul Scholes. It doesn't mean to say he is not recognised by us.

“You get players like that. Denis Irwin was much the same. He was not the type to trumpet his achievements. It is quite refreshing in the modern game that we have players who can rely on their ability not only by promoting or projecting themselves.”

Carrick has come under criticism from fans in recent seasons but Sir Alex defended the player who he bought for an estimated £18 million in 2006.

“Michael is mentally strong,” said Ferguson. “He has a different personality. That can be misread by a lot of people thinking he has to be encouraged all the time. That is not the case.”

Defender Chris Smalling had to be stretchered off in England’s 3-2 defeat against Netherlands after clashing heads with opposition striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and he remains a doubt for the match at White Hart Lane.

“Chris is our only doubt,” Ferguson added. “There was no concussion but he got quite a nasty cut and it is something we need to tread carefully with.”

The 70-year-old also hopes Michael Owen can come back from injury soon and help push United towards retaining the Premier League title.

He added: “Hopefully Michael can have a little bit of luck now because he has not had much of that at all. His injuries have always been long-term but hopefully he will be back for the end of the season now, which would help us.”

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