Last on Match of the Day... again!
ANOTHER meaningless final day of the Premier League season at Old Trafford, and another graveyard slot on Match of the
Day for Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson retired five years ago this week and United still look well short of emulating his great teams, both in terms of their success and their style.
Jose Mourinho’s side can lift the FA Cup at Wembley this weekend but the days when the club were parading titles at this time of year seem very distant indeed.
It doesn’t bode particularly well that the man whose skill made the difference against Watford yesterday is retiring this summer.
Michael Carrick will be hard to replace, just like so many of his old team-mates from the Ferguson era whose achievements have proved impossible for their successors to match.
At the age of 36, it’s time for Carrick to hang up his boots and take a place alongside Mourinho on the bench. But on his 464th appearance, and first Premier League start of the season, Carrick provided a final reminder of what made him one of the most cultured English midfielders of his generation.
United were toiling to break down a decidedly average Watford team in the Old Trafford sunshine when he took possession inside his own half in the 34th minute.
Carrick saw the opportunity immediately and clipped an exquisite pass over the top of the Watford defence.
Juan Mata’s first touch was just as good as he controlled the ball first time and squared it to Marcus Rashford who scored almost apologetically into an empty net with Heurelho Gomes stranded.
It was the one true moment of class in an otherwise pedestrian match befitting an end-of-season game with little riding on it. Sadly for United fans, they have grown accustomed to that. Carrick had emerged from the tunnel to a guard of honour with his daughter Louise and son Jacey beforehand, and departed the stage to rapturous applause and hugs from his teammates when he was replaced by Paul Pogba.
In typically self- deprecating fashion, he addressed supporters after the game and suggested that his performance showed why it is time to go.
On the contrary, he was arguably United’s best player. Scott McTominay will learn a lot from him, and so too could Pogba.
Mourinho has often lamented the fact that he did not work with Carrick in his prime and did so again yesterday. A new midfielder of that calibre will be on his shopping list this summer.
Somehow he must find a way to take United to the next level if they are going to seriously challenge Manchester City and the rest.
Mourinho claims that 81 points would see United fighting for the title in most other campaigns not dominated by City, and he has a point.
But he also admits that ‘something doesn’t smell right’ at the club, and he is not alone in that opinion.
His team have struggled to provide entertainment and excitement for fans who demand it. So often the headline act, United were last on the BBC’s highlights last night and not for the first time this season either.
It will be a challenging summer for Mourinho and one that he has to face without his trusted assistant Rui Faria. In Carrick, at least he has someone by his side who knows what standards to set.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3): Romero 7; Darmian 6, Bailly 6.5, Rojo 7, Young 6.5 (Shaw 60, 6); McTominay 6, CARRICK 7.5 (Pogba 85), Blind 5.5 (Herrera 77, 6); Mata 7, Rashford 6, Sanchez 7. Subs not used: Jones, Lingard, Valencia, Pereira. Scorer: Rashford 34. Booked: Rojo, Young, McTominay, Shaw. WATFORD (4-1-4-1): Gomes 6.5; Janmaat 6.5, Cathcart 7, Kabasele 6 (Mariappa 21, 6) Holebas 6.5; Doucoure 7; Deulofeu 6 (Deeney 63, 6), Hughes, Pereyra, Richarlison 5; Gray 6.5 (Chalobah 72, 6). Subs not used: Prodl, Sinclair, Lukebakio, Bachmann. Booked: None. Referee: Lee Mason 7.
Strike: Rashford taps into an empty net for United’s winner
Honour: Carrick leads United out with daughter Louise and son Jacey