The Busby Babe continues with the fifteenth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is midfielder Michael Carrick.
I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.
What was expected
Since the run-in of the 2010-11 season, Michael Carrick has been in superb form and he's essentially been the stalwart of United's midfield. He's been the foundation while it's been a revolving door of partners for him in the engine room. Ahead of this season, the same was anticipated from the Englishman while the likes of Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes, and Anderson were expected to compete for the second first-choice central-midfield role alongside him.
What we got
What we got was Carrick being in the form of his life: he was voted Manchester United's Player of the Year by his colleagues in a title-winning season, he was shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award, and he was named into the PFA's Team of the Year. He was simply outstanding.
* GS: games started (substitute appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, FT % = final third passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = successful crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, LB = accurate long balls per game, LB % = long ball accuracy rate, TB = successful through balls per game, DRB = successful dribbles per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game
Carrick actually began the season as an emergency central-defender because of early-season fitness issues for the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones. He struggled mightily against Everton's Marouane Fellaini in the season-opener, however, no one held that against him because he was being deployed out of position. When the 31-year-old moved back into the familiar confines of central-midfield, he was superb -- and arguably United's most influential player.
In today's football, the holding player has become increasingly influential. In Jonathan Wilson's recent review of the 2012-13 season's tactical trends, he had this to say about the role:
'That hints at two other trends this season: the growing importance of the deep-lying midfielder as a playmaker and the increasing variety of the central striker.
That the holding player - or one of the two holding players - has a creative function is not exactly new but the implications of that do seem to have been particularly relevant this year. As Jürgen Klopp gleefully noted after Dortmund had had the better of Real Madrid in the group stage of the Champions League, if you shut down Xabi Alonso, the rest follows. Then he did it again in the semi-final. That Dortmund could not neutralise Martínez with the same efficiency was one of the reasons Bayern got the better of them in head to heads this season (a supremacy that was greater even than a record of three wins and two draws in five games suggests).
Ilkay Gündogan performed a similar role for Dortmund, receiving the ball deep and setting the tempo. Andrea Pirlo did the same for Juventus. Sergio Busquets does it for Barcelona and Michael Carrick for Manchester United. That's one of the reasons the central creator now has a defensive role, which has been one of the impressive aspects of Juan Mata and Oscar for Chelsea this season. Midfields have never been so split - it's common to think in four bands rather than three - and yet the need for universality, for holding players to create and for creative players to shut down, has never been greater.'
Carrick has a great understanding of this holding role and he has the technical qualities to be the metronomic architect of this United side -- he definitely fills the need for universality. In this interview with Four Four Two, the Englishman provides some nuggets of information on his defensive responsibilities.
On the basics of his job:
'If the game is being played at 100mph, don't get carried away with what's happening - positioning is the key. If you can get on the ball and support the attack then go for it, but be aware of where the danger is if the move breaks down. If they counter-attack you've got to be able to get in a position to help the defence.'
Carrick is a decent tackler and better at it than he's generally given credit for, even if he's not a ferocious and energetic one in the mold of a Roy Keane or a Claude Makelele -- but that's okay. What he's particularly good at, in regards to his defending, is his positioning and his ability to pick off a pass. He discusses how he does it here:
'Shut off the angles. If you press the player on the ball you're creating space in behind you and they can pass into that space. Force the opposition to play the ball where you want. Do this by stepping off the player you're marking and drawing them into a pass, then trying to intercept it.'
Some of the lazy narrative about Carrick is that he doesn't pass forward enough or that he just plays five-to-ten yard passes. On the former, 37% of his Premier League passes were forward this season while just 8% went backwards. How does that compare to other players positioned in the center of the park for United?: Scholes 20% forward and 8 % backwards, Cleverley 23% forward and 15% backwards, Anderson 23% forward and 16% backwards, Ryan Giggs 35% forward and 14% backwards, Darren Fletcher 22% forward and 8% backwards, and Phil Jones 32% forward and 16% backwards. Yaya Toure? -- 31% forward and 11% backwards. Mikel Arteta? -- 29% forward and 12% backwards. I don't think our midfield maestro is as conservative as some would like you to believe. In addition, he showed a clear focus this season in looking to play balls over the top for Robin van Persie. He also played this beauty for Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) against Chelsea:
via: Beautifully Red
'When you've got the ball you have to think, ‘How far forward can I play?' Sometimes a 10-yard forward pass can be better than a 60-yard forward pass that doesn't go anywhere. The short pass might take three midfielders out the game and your attacking midfielder running at the back four. If the game is stretched and has been end-to-end then don't go long, because if it gets cut out they're attacking you again. This is the time to play a five-yard pass and slow the game down. However, don't be afraid to take a risk and try an incisive pass.'
In his seven seasons at Old Trafford, Carrick has never made less than 41 appearances in any campaign -- and 44 were made for the 2012-13 one. His durability and stamina is incredible. With the Englishman at the peak of his powers right now, no other player is currently more reliable than him on this United squad -- and that includes van Persie. In midfield, Carrick is the No.6 that shields the back four while he's also the player that often controls the tempo of a match. He's also the one that best compliments any other central-midfielder on the squad: whether that be Cleverley, Scholes, Jones, Giggs, or Fletch. He is the stalwart. He was the constant in the title-winning campaign. It's hard to believe it's not Scholes, it's Carrick you know.
Judging by the recent transfer speculation, it appears very possible that new manager David Moyes will overhaul the midfield this summer. Carrick, though, will almost certainly be the fulcrum in the center of the park next season while he'll likely provide another 40+ appearances. The England international does only have a year remaining on his contract. He's likely, though, to get rewarded with rolling one-year deals -- similar to the way Ferdinand and Giggs do now -- as long as he still similarly contributes the way he does now. At 31-years-old, he's showing no signs of slowing down and it wouldn't be a surprise if he were awarded with a new contract by summer's end or prior to next January.