5 players who can solve Mourinho's Carrick problem

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5 players who can solve Mourinho's Carrick problem

Manchester United's form this season has been inconsistent, to say the least. One might attribute it to a variety of factors such as change of manager and style of play, some players not living up to their potential, poor finishing or even being on the wrong side of some poor refereeing decisions.

But after a disastrous spell post the international break in September and a large part of October, United have gone on to rack up an impressive unbeaten run of 16 games in the league. Many will agree that the catalyst behind this unbeaten run has been Michael Carrick's inclusion in the starting XI and his role in how United play.

Michael Carrick has been stellar in the defensive midfield role for United. It's not a surprise because he has been consistent for United in the past as well and was a lynchpin in the team since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. His ability to read the game, dictate play from midfield, put in accurate passes into the feet of strikers and wingers, shielding the back 4 when required, and providing that experience and leadership to the team has made him one of the best of midfielders in the Premier League, if not Europe. Though he was only a bit-part player in the last few seasons, he has stamped his authority on the team this season and has shown what influence an experienced deep lying playmaker can have on a team.

However, he will turn 36 this summer and with age not on his side, United will soon have to find a replacement for the Englishman. A lot of pundits have been pointing out this burning issue that United have to address sooner or rather than later and it won’t be a surprise if Mourinho will dip into the transfer market this summer in search of the replacement. While there are still a few months left for the summer transfer window, for now, we can only speculate and draw a list of possible replacements for Carrick that United can look at.

In order to list down potential candidates, we need to lay down some criteria on the basis of which the players can be judged. And the best place to look for those criteria is Michael Carrick himself. Carrick brings the following qualities to the United team –

a) Composure on the ball – As a defensive midfielder, one will constantly be under pressure from the opponent strikers and midfielders. Especially against teams who like to press and win the ball back high up the pitch, it is extremely important for a defensive midfielder to have composure when he has the ball at his feet and keep possession despite the high pressure. Carrick brings that composure and controls the ball really well in tight situations.

b) Passing quality and range – As a deep-lying playmaker, one has to be the starting point of all attacks, which means that the player needs to have really good passing ability as well as the vision to pick out a run ahead of him. One of Carrick’s highlights is his ability to play the ball right into the feet of strikers from a deeper position in his own half. He also has the ability to switch the ball to either flank in order to find the wingers or fullbacks. Michael Carrick has the highest pass accuracy (90%) in the United team and has the 6th highest average pass length (18m) in the United squad amongst outfield players.

c) Shielding the back four – Given that the defensive midfielder is the last line of defence before the back four, it is imperative that he shields them very well. The midfielder has to chip in with tackles and interceptions and do the dirty work when needed. Carrick’s defensive contribution is undermined to a large extent because he is not someone who flies into tackles. But he uses his intelligence to read the game and makes crucial interceptions. In fact, the former Spurs player has the 3rd best interceptions-per-90 minutes ratio in the United squad (2.95 int/90 mins) behind Ander Herrera and Matteo Darmian, while he is also 3rd on the blocked shots-per-90 minutes ratio (0.55 BS/90 mins) behind Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

Let’s look at some of the potential candidates who could replace him in the future.

1) Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain

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One name that instantaneously springs to mind when you think of deep lying playmakers is that of Marco Verratti. The 24-year-old diminutive Italian has been compared to the likes of Pirlo already. His performances for PSG have definitely backed those comparisons. Verratti not only has the ability to dictate the game from midfield, as he has shown time and again, but he also has the extra creative spark which makes him suitable to play in an advanced midfield role as well.

Averaging 1.25 key passes-per-game, he is the 4th best in the PSG squad in terms of key passes per game. The Italian certainly has the knack to put in some crunching tackles when required. The tenacious midfielder has won 3.16 tackles-per-90 minutes in the Ligue 1, highest in the PSG squad.

His valuation and PSG’s willingness to let him leave are questions for another day, but he certainly has the ability to fill in Michael Carrick’s big shoes at United.

2) Leon Goretzka – Schalke

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German midfielder Leon Goretzka isn’t a widely known name. Yet. But his performances for Schalke have been raising a lot of eyebrows recently and have equally drawn praises from all quarters. Goretzka has all the attributes of a fine holding midfielder. He is strong, both in the air and on the ground, has the ability to the shield the defence and break up play, runs the play from midfield into the final third and has an excellent work rate as well.

Having started his career at VfL Bochum, the 22-year-old joined Schalke in 2013 and has since progressed up the ranks to finally cement his place in the main squad. His creative abilities on the ball allow him to be versatile enough to play in advanced midfield positions and as a winger as well.

Goretzka’s contract with Schalke expires in 2018 and a lot of clubs are said to be in the running for the talented midfielder’s signature, if tabloids are to be believed, including Juventus and Liverpool.

3) Julian Weigl -  Borussia Dortmund

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Julian Weigl is a 21-year-old defensive midfielder who plays for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga. Even at such a young age, he has gone on to establish himself as one of the key players in the Dortmund squad since last season. While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been stealing the headlines for his goal scoring exploits week in, week out, Weigl has been playing his part silently, starting off moves from the back which Aubemayang has been able to apply the finishing touches to.

Similar to Carrick, Weigl is also someone who sits in front of the back four and dictates the tempo of the game. His stats are eerily similar to Carrick as well. Weigl has a pass accuracy of 90% in the Bundesliga with an average pass length of 18m. He averages around 77 passes-per-90 mins (as compared to Carrick’s 71 passes-per-90) and also makes an average of 2.6 interceptions-per-90 minutes.

In addition, he has the exposure and experience of playing at the highest level, both in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. At only 21, he has his best years ahead of him and there is no reason why he cannot be the perfect replacement for Carrick.

4) William Carvalho – Sporting Lisbon

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Carvalho’s name has been doing the rounds during the transfer period over the last few seasons, so much so that it almost feels as if he is a veteran on the football scene right now. But he’s still only 24 and has been consistently performing for Sporting Lisbon. He also represented Portugal at the Euros in 2016 and was an integral part of the squad. Possessing supreme composure and calmness on the ball, the Portuguese is also a great tackler and ball winner in midfield.

It’s a surprise that he is still with Sporting Lisbon and it will not be long before a European powerhouse snaps him up. Boasting a pass completion rate of 88% in the Primeira Liga, accompanied by an average of 1.87 interceptions-per-game and 1.2 tackles won-per-90 minutes, Carvalho will add steel as well stability to the United midfield and is also what one would refer to as a ‘typical Jose Mourinho’ player.

5) Daley BlindManchester United

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Yes, Daley Blind! The Dutchman was an integral part of the United squad under Louis van Gaal, but has seen his game time deplete under Jose Mourinho. However, the Dutch international has played as a defensive midfielder before and his style of play is extremely similar to that of Carrick. Possessing the highest level of football intelligence, Blind has the composure and the range of passing that can match, if not surpass, that of Carrick. Blind has also played at Centre Back and Left Back for United in the last couple of seasons which have definitely improved his defensive side of the game and will help him add that steel in midfield and act as a cover for the back four without being overrun by physical players in the Premier League. Given that there are

Blind has also played at Centre Back and Left Back for United in the last couple of seasons which have definitely improved his defensive side of the game and will help him add that steel in midfield and act as a cover for the back four without being overrun by physical players in the Premier League. Given that there are rumors that United might splurge the cash on Griezmann in the summer, promoting Blind from within the squad can help save some of the money which they might otherwise end up splurging on a Carrick replacement.

Given Carrick’s experience in the Premier League and his importance to the team, it is probably impossible to find someone who can replace him so easily. United have struggled to find a replacement for Paul Scholes since years and they might find it difficult to replace Carrick as well. But they have options aplenty and are not short on cash either. With Pogba and Herrera complementing each other so well in recent times, probably the pressure to find a Carrick replacement has reduced a bit. Nevertheless, a player of Carrick’s quality would be an invaluable addition to any team and having a successor for him will only benefit the squad as a whole. 

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