Thursday night’s defeat in the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Hull City was the first time Michael Carrick had been on the losing side this season after starting for Manchester United. It is no coincidence that the 35 year old has been pretty much ever present since the start of United’s long unbeaten run in the league. Although he may have some time to go before he calls time on his illustrious career, there is no doubt Jose Mourinho should be considering who his long term replacement should be.
There are a number of reasons why such a like for like replacement will be a tough task:
Experience – Carrick has played 653 games of senior football in his career, 444 of them at the top level with United. With five Premier League titles, and a Champions League under his belt, there are very few players in Europe who could fill the void.
Control – Today’s game is dominated by possession football and Carrick passing success stats are up there with the best in the league. He is always an option on the ball for his team mates, and more often than not, you can rely on him to take the ball under pressure if needed and recycle the ball to set up another attack. He calms down players around him like Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, reassuring them that they have an experienced head behind them who is able to take control.
Positional Awareness – For those who are not United fans, this element of Carrick’s game is underappreciated but it is a crucial part of the midfielder’s game. Football intelligence is not always simply about decision making; being at the right place at the right time is something of an art form. If you are positionally aware, last ditch tackles are rarely required. You can sniff danger earlier, anticipate the pass and place your body in position to intercept. It can go unnoticed in the game; far more than crunching 50/50 challenge.
Passing range – we leave the best until last. Being able to hit long diagonal balls to absolute perfection, as well sharp short passes into feet, Carrick range is a rare commodity in football. You could say Andrea Pirlo had it, and Xabi Alonso still does, but few others have the level of consistency to pick out a team mate like Carrick.
So how do you go about replacing him? Well let’s look at a few candidates:
Toni Kroos – For me he ticks all the boxes. If we consider the four attributes we have looked at as strengths in Carrick’s game, he has the experience (he has won a World Cup after all, and the Champions League); his control of the game is superb although he does have Luka Modric alongside him at Real Madrid. His passing range is also top drawer but it could be said his positional awareness is lacking somewhat in deeper positions. The obvious question mark is whether he would be willing to leave Real, and at this point in time it could be unlikely.
Arturo Vidal – The Chilean has been linked with United in the past, although he is now said to be a target for Chelsea. The midfielder could be described as more combative than Carrick, although he has the experience. He has won the Copa America and won titles in Italy and Germany. Compared to Kroos and Carrick though, his passing range is probably not at the same standard.
Julian Weigl – If we are looking more towards the future rather than simply a short term replacement, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder could be a candidate, although he did just sign a new deal to stay at the German club in December. The 21 year old is a raw talent but this season already he is proving a key first team player. A 91.7% pass success rate (according to whoscored.com) is one of the top percentages in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Even with a number of options on the transfer market though, finding a replacement for Carrick will be a challenge, but it will have to happen at some point. He is still going strong at 35 but the time is fast approaching for his replacement; somebody who could command United’s midfield for years to come.