Classy Carrick crucial cog in United machine
Mourinho relies on veteran to help settle down squad
Amid the likely rotation during the busy festive program in the Premier League, there’s one player Manchester United fans won’t want to see off the team.
Forget Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Forget Paul Pogba. The most crucial member of Jose Mourinho’s side might be a 35-year-old defensive midfielder whose best days were supposedly behind him.
Michael Carrick is making United tick after belatedly gaining Mourinho’s trust.
The stats back it up: Since Carrick was recalled on Sept 21, United is unbeaten in the 12 matches he has played, winning 10 and drawing the other two because of late equalizers.
In the past three seasons, United has a 60 percent win rate when Carrick has started. Without him, it’s 38 percent.
Carrick plays a duel role for United, offering protection to the back four through his positioning and anticipation, as well as providing a base for its midfielders and forwards to flourish in front of him.
Mourinho appears to have settled on a central-midfield three of Carrick, Ander Herrera and Pogba in a 4-3-3 formation.
Carrick plays deepest, Herrera is the scavenger just ahead of him and Pogba gets more license to roam forward.
It’s no coincidence United is getting better performances out of Pogba, the worldrecord signing from Juventus for $116 million, now that the France international has Carrick as cover.
In his Sunday Times column last weekend, former United defender Rio Ferdi- nand said Pogba told him Carrick has “set him free”.
“Carrick feeds him the ball early, quickly and in areas where he can do damage, before teams get set the way they were doing before,” Ferdinand wrote.
With Pogba further forward, Ibrahimovic has more support along with wide players Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata.
Ibrahimovic has improved in recent weeks, too, with 10 goals in nine games.
At the same time, United isn’t surrendering as many goals with Carrick, who has 34 caps for England, stationed in front of the defense.
In Carrick’s last six matches, United conceded three and had three clean sheets.
The Old Trafford club has won its last three league outings to place sixth, four points off the Champions League qualification zone.
“We have been saying for a number of weeks now that things are clicking into gear for us,” said former Tottenham man Carrick. “We just haven’t had the results to show for that.
“We say it every year: This time, coming into a quick run of games, is a big time. If you can come out of Christmas in good shape then you give yourself a real chance.”
The problem for Mourinho is that United has four games in 13 days, starting with Monday’s visit of struggler Sunderland.
United then hosts Middlesbrough before a trip to West Ham and an FA Cup tie at home to Reading on Jan 7.
At 35, Carrick will struggle to start them all.
The same applies to 35-year-old Swede Ibrahimovic, who has played every minute in the Premier League this season.
But at least Mourinho seems to have made his mind up about Carrick.
In the first six weeks of his first season with the club, the Portuguese played the oftmaligned Marouane Fellaini or Herrera as his deep-lying midfielder.
In the derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sept 10, Fellaini and Pogba were the holding midfielders, but they lacked discipline for that position.
Carrick brings more shape and rhythm to United’s midfield. He was the on-field brains for Louis van Gaal during the Dutch manager’s difficult two-year reign, and he’s still proving vital in the new era under Mourinho.
the world’s largest annual beer festival, which Bayern players always attend.
“After one throw, my opponent had already knocked over more than I had in my three attempts,” the defender told Sky, while being careful not to name who won the bet.
Hummels seemed happy enough with his new ’do.
“I was afraid it would look worse. It will grow out so in a few weeks it will all be over.”
Michael Carrick takes control for Manchester United against Sunderland on Sept 26 at Old Trafford. The 35-year-old has been outstanding in United’s midfield recently.