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Why Manchester United must replace Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick has talents, but his deficiencies make him ill-suited to this United team.

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Michael Carrick is a great way to work out what kind of footballing chump you are. You can hate him for everything he stands for and ignore all his talents, or you can love him and forget him his many weaknesses. Two sides of the same arsecheek, basically. Carrick is a victim of strong opinions on both sides because of the failures of managers and of pseuds to either do their job properly, or stop using him to posture about what a clever bunch of people they belong to.

Let's have it right. Carrick can pass. Carrick can intercept, Carrick can take the ball in front of the defence and will react more calmly to that situation than many of United's current alternatives will. Ander Herrera is a superior midfielder but is not his superior in that position. Wayne Rooney can run about a great deal more but can't control the ball and pass it along the ground as well. Daley Blind offers a similar lack of mobility, but he has scope to improve and might yet grow into the role, but he is in his first season in England and may never be more than an adequate squad player that United fans will embarrassingly proclaim ‘man love' for.

And let's also have it right about what Carrick can't do. He can't learn. He's been much the same player since he joined in 2006, doing the same job in a team of fluctuating talents. A better and more responsible player would have adapted his game to the needs of the team, Carrick cannot and has not done that. A better and more responsible player would not have taken two years off to sulk after being trounced by Barcelona in Rome. A better and more responsible player would have guided the squad through the miserable period under David Moyes. Carrick did not do that, in the same way that Carrick conspicuously fails to track players running from midfield into the box, and who rarely bothers to sprint backwards when the team are in trouble.

Which is to say that United missed Carrick against Chelsea is a half-truth. With Chelsea sitting back, Carrick's presence would have meant that Rooney would have been able to play in attack. But unlike as against Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs, he would not have been able to stretch defences anymore than Radamel Falcao would have, because that Chelsea defence was not going to be stretched by anyone. It sat deep and invited crosses in the knowledge that they had the skills to defend that competently. The way through the Chelsea defence would have been to have move the ball far quicker from side to side, and to thread balls through the defence. Carrick is capable of intercepting a pass and launching a counter attack, his skills are not deftly Arsenalling his way through a midfield, or sharply bringing the ball from one wing to another. In all likelihood, Chelsea would have withstood the United sterile domination and seized on some mistake or other. In a direct replay of the Chelsea game, there is not a chance in any alternate universe that sees Carrick tracking Eden Hazard's run.

And this is why Carrick should be replaced in the summer. Not because he is a bad player, but because in the Champions League and at the top of the Premier League, mistakes become ever less affordable. Defensive shape and discipline becomes more valuable. Speed of thought, passing and body are increasingly required from every player from the defence forward.

If we assume Manchester United buy Nathaniel Clyne, Mats Hummels and Memphis Depay, then United will attack swiftly down the wings with Rooney or a younger striker as a focal point down the middle of the pitch. And that means that it will be absolutely essential for a defensive midfielder to offer protection while full backs and others are attacking. With a ball-playing central defender often used by Van Gaal, that will increase the responsibilities on the deepest midfielder.

That player will have to have speed to cover the wings or counterattacks down the middle. He will have to track runners when the game is more settled to stop goals conceded, as they were, against Chelsea, City and Liverpool. He will need to be strong in the tackle and then able to play a simple ball to those ahead of him. Carrick can only do so much of that. It is not that he is the wrong player for the team now, any more than the rest of the squad are, but it is obvious he is the wrong player for next season.