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Friday, 8 April 2011

Carrick given freedom to express thanks to energy of Park and assurance of Ferdinand

Ji Sung Park and Michael Carrick are hardly household names in world football, they aren't even considered big names at Manchester United, but Wednesday's 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Champions League showed why they are rated so highly by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It was a terrific team performance from Ferguson's men, displaying courage, class and determination, all qualities they'll need to even have a a chance at winning the treble.

The return of Rio Ferdinand added assurance and stability at the back alongside Vidic, while Ryan Giggs brought experience and calmness, his exquisite touch leading to Wayne Rooney's goal, and Rooney himself produced moments of magic.

But it was the tenacity of Park and intelligence of Carrick which was key to the victory as they controlled the midfield battle against Lampard and Essien.

Carrick is often described as a confidence player, someone who only performs when his confidence is high. But in my view this is not the case. He is a team player, someone who does what's best for the team and not himself. It's clear that Carrick's best attribute is his passing, highlighted perfectly when he floated an inch perfect ball to Giggs for Rooney's goal, but he has seldom had the chance to show off his passing ability this season.

The reason for this is because he has been playing a much deeper role. His job is to defend, break up moves and then set his team up on the counter. It is something which he has excelled at. However, this means that he cannot produce the raking passes he has been in previous years because he cannot do the job of two midfielders at once.

But the return of another underrated player on Wednesday allowed Carrick the chance to express himself more. Ji Sung Park has been a big loss to United this season, his commitment and enthusiasm has been missed.

However, against Chelsea his tenacity and harrying of players freed up space for Carrick to push up the pitch and play a more attacking role while also tracking back and defending. The graphics below highlights this point. The left chalkboard shows Carrick's passing in United's 0-0 draw with Tottenham in January while the right is Wednesday's win over Chelsea.

You can clearly deduce from these the difference in the position Carrick is playing. Against Tottenham he played a deeper role where his job was to prevent Spurs making any forward movement and therefore he made less forward passes and very few inside the opponents half. Whereas against Chelsea he was given the freedom to play higher up the pitch and become more directly involved in attacks, with the example being his wonderful pass to Giggs for the goal.

The stats from Wednesday's game only help his cause. Carrick had a highest pass rate, between 88-95% (depending on which source you use), he covered by far the most distance on the pitch, 11.31km, and made by far the most interceptions with seven.

Defending is the one area where Carrick is grossly underrated. Out of every player in this year's Champions League, he has made by far the most interceptions with 36, a stat which he also leads in the Premier League, while also having a tackle success rate of 70%.

There were countless times against Chelsea where you saw the value of Carrick. One specific example was when Drogba made a threatening run heading towards the penalty area but was halted by Carrick, who had sprinted back from his sides' own attack to stop the threat.

Carrick has the complete package for a midfielder. He has the passing, the tackling, anticipation and fitness to become a regular starter for one of the best teams in the world. The only slight downfall of him is his lack of shooting. But there is little doubt in my mind that if United go onto win trophies this season, Michael Carrick would have had a big hand to play in it.

Carrick's first half passing was simply outstanding. Made only 19 passes but nearly everyone leading to an attack for his team.

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