Season Review 2012 -13 – Player of the Year

Michael Carrick

The task of selecting www.manutdtactics.com Player of the Year has been very difficult. In the end we have chosen Michael Carrick, but only by the narrowest of margins from Robin van Persie. Let us explain…

Van Persie had an excellent first year at the club. He started well and – despite a dip in goals in the New Year – found his scoring boots towards the end of the season to end as the Premier League’s top scorer. But with van Persie it isn’t just about goals, but his all round play. He is strong, has good close control, moves well with and without the ball across the forward line; he is composed and a clinical finisher. Last year we identified the need for a forward player who would make life more uncomfortable for the opposition’s central defenders; he is that player.

But Carrick is the www.manutdtactics.com Player of the Year. He has had an excellent season, in fact an excellent eighteen months, during which time he has established himself as the key United player in the middle of the park.  It is almost as though after the derby defeat at Old Trafford last year someone pointed out to him that he needed to assert himself and make a difference. United now look immeasurably weaker when he does not play, he is so important to the rhythm of the side.

Michael Carrick joined United in the summer of 2006. He has made 307 competitive appearances for the club and won five Premier League Championships in seven years.  Since making his debut for the national side in 2001 he has been capped 27 times by England.  He has not always been valued by many United fans, and for a few years he went through a period when his game was let down by a habit of giving the ball away occasionally in dangerous positions which put the defence under pressure. Although United supporters appreciate his occasional breath-taking passes, he isn’t a headline grabbing player, rather one who goes about his business making things tick. If you want a reference to a breathtaking moment our favourite this year was his pass to Hernandez to set up the opening goal in the first FA Cup game against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Carrick gets on with his job calmly, directing play from deep, often re-directing the focus of the attack by feeding more mobile players further forward.  It is more likely that Carrick will provide the key pass out of defence to start a breakaway that leads to a goal than scoring the goal himself.  Carrick reads the game well.

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For those who like statistics, last season Carrick played a part in all except two of United’s Premier League fixtures.  He played the full ninety minutes in all but four of those games in which he featured. He made 2721 passes with a pass completion rate of 88%. 75% of his passes were forward passes. His average pass length was 19 metres. Other clubs’ fans and many commentators rate him highly, recognising his importance to the United team. Many consider it strange that he has won so few England caps. ( see http://ademirtozizinho.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/rangliste-2012-13-defensive-midfielders.html or http://whitehouseaddress.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/michael-carrick-englands-most.html ).

The tactical orthodoxy at United recently has been a 4-4-1-1 shape in defence, transforming into a 4-2-3-1 in attack. Carrick plays as part of the central two in these shapes, usually slightly to the right as one of the double pivots, with his partner in central midfield pushing further forward.

Defensively Carrick works to control space in front of the back four, screening and looking to intercept rather than to tackle. United lack a midfield tackler, and this is a general weakness of the current team. Tackling is not Carrick’s game, although in emergencies he has been employed as a makeshift centre back, albeit rather unconvincingly because his game lacks the necessary defensive aggression.

The most common criticism levelled at Carrick is that he struggles when pressed. He finds it hard to exert influence on the game, and sometimes he has given the ball away via a hurried pass, which has proved costly. That said, in the last eighteen months he has largely eliminated this feature of his play. Now when pressed he has less of an impact but, crucially, retains possession.

To overcome this problem, what United -and Carrick- need is a good ‘shuttler’ as the second pivot. Giggs, Cleverley and Anderson have all been tried in this role. None has proved wholly successful. The purpose of the shuttler is to play higher than the other pivot, run at the opposition or at least be more mobile, able to push the opposition’s central midfield players back and create time and space for the other pivot to pick his passes. Carrick has been at his most effective when the shuttler has performed effectively. It was often said that Carrick had difficulty playing alongside Scholes. Clearly this is no longer an issue, but the view that Scholes inhibited him misses the point. The point is that both players exhibited the same areas of strength and weakness and so did not complement each other. Each generally benefited from a contrasting type of midfield partner: both needed a shuttler. Without one, the opposition midfield was often comfortable and with both players sitting deep, United often surrendered too much space, which invited the opposition on.  Whilst Carrick has had a great season, one can’t help but wonder how much more he could contribute if partnered by a midfield player who could effectively be a foil for his game.