Dane Massey explains how Jose Mourinho picking Michael Carrick more regularly will help Manchester United
Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over West Ham United last Wednesday night meant that Jose Mourinho’s side progressed to the semi-finals of the EFL Cup. Manchester United will play Hull City over two legs for a place in the final against Southampton or Liverpool.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring, which put the Swede into double figures for the season. West Ham levelled ten minutes before the break when former Manchester United youth product Ashley Fletcher, made the most of a goalkeeping rare goalkeeping error from David De Gea. In the second half, a brace from Anthony Marital put United 3-1 up before Ibrahimovic scored again to round off an impressive performance from the home side.
It was a fantastic team display from the Red Devils, defensively sound and abundant in attack. They also looked more solid in midfield, and the key reason for this was the return of Michael Carrick, who sat out the 1-1 draw with West Ham on Sunday due to a minor injury.
This season, Carrick has been a key player for United. When he has played, United have won 8 games out of 9, compared to just 4 wins out of 13 without him. Carrick is a calming influence on the team — he is the perfect midfield anchorman for any team.
Just a few weeks ago, former Spurs player and manager Tim Sherwood praised the impact of Carrick. “Michael should be the first name on the team sheet; he is the replica of a Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso,” Sherwood said.
Sherwood was correct, Carrick is as good as any defensive midfielder at the role he plays, and Manchester United’s statistics prove this. It is not the first time everybody has realised Carrick’s staggering influence on the Manchester United team either. In the 2012/13 season, Carrick played 36 out of 38 league games as United won the league title by 11 points. Two seasons later, United won six consecutive league games twice in the same campaign. These imperious streaks of form coincided with Carrick’s return to the team on both occasions.
Over the last three seasons, Carrick has been plagued with injury problems which have severely limited his game time, but there is no doubt that when he is fully fit he should be starting week in week out for Jose Mourinho’s team. Mourinho should realise the impact of a top class defensive midfielder. When he managed Chelsea in his first spell, he had Claude Makelele. While in charge of Inter Milan, he coached Esteban Cambiasso, who was an ever-present in the Nerazzurri’s 2010 treble winning campaign in 2009/10.
After winning titles in Italy, Mourinho moved onto Spain with Real Madrid, where he established Xabi Alonso as his primary defensive midfielder. At Manchester United, he must do the same with Carrick as he did with Makelele, Cambiasso and Xabi Alonso at his previous clubs. Carrick may be 35 years of age, but he is showing the ability to carry on playing at the top level.
Naturally, defensive midfielders can play until they are older than players in other positions as they do less running. Carrick does not have to run a lot anyway, he is a man who plays like he has eyes on the back of his head. Carrick’s positional sense is outstanding, and he has the ability to pick out any pass. Such unique abilities to read the game masterfully is crucial in bringing the best out in players such as Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Carrick has been the most underrated player in England over the past decade, he consistently provides the platform for forward thinking players to influence proceedings. So far this season, Mourinho has experimented with Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera at the base of his midfield, but neither of these players can match the qualities and distinctive talent Carrick possesses.
Paul Scholes, Carrick’s former Manchester United and England team-mate regularly speaks of Carrick’s high importance to the team. When speaking after Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Fenebache in the UEFA Europa League last month, Scholes said, “whenever he [Carrick] has played they’ve looked a different team.” He also hailed Carrick’s impact on Pogba’s game, “he’s helped Pogba, a bit of experience”.
Astonishingly, Carrick only has 34 caps for England and has not played for his country since March 2015. This however, is England’s loss and Manchester United’s gain as it will perhaps help him to prolong his career at club level.
Mourinho will certainly hope that this is the case. When he is fully fit, Carrick makes a huge difference to the way Manchester United play, as he has showed over the course of the season so far. If the Portuguese boss wants to be successful at his new club, he must make Carrick a key component of his team.