When David Moyes took over from Sir Alex Ferguson there was a lack of certainty all around the club, except for the constant figure of Michael Carrick. Moyes now faces the prospect of losing his midfield talisman for the rest of the year. Who amongst the Manchester United supporting cast can step up?
Michael Carrick is probably the most difficult player to replace in the Manchester United line up, which includes the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie and that is a huge testament to his ability. But a replacement will have to be found for the Geordie for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks following the Achilles injury which he has suffered.
Carrick played the whole 90 minutes in United’s win over the Arsenal last weekend but he was rested for two matches prior to that game, against Real Sociedad and Fulham. Though nothing concrete has emerged from the medical staff at Carrington there were concerns that Carrick was carrying an injury for the best part of last month which probably led to him being rested.
Manchester United have a tough run in over the course of the next month in which they have crucial Champions League encounters against Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk. In the Premier League, United have to travel to Carrick’s former club – Tottenham Hotspur and also host Everton and Newcastle, fixtures which could be potential banana skins for Moyes’ men. The Scot knows that his side must build on the consistency which they have shown over the last month, but it will have impressed upon him that this task has been made more difficult because of the injury to Carrick.
Carrick’s enforced absence though, will force some of United’s less celebrated midfield men to step up to the mark and ensure that the Red Devils achieve the twin aim of qualifying for the knock out rounds of The Champions League and being within striking distance of the top spot in the Premiership.
The twenty one year old former Blackburn Rovers man has had a stellar month for United. The problem with Jones during his United career has been that he is a seven out of ten in a lot of positions but a nine out of ten in none. And to play for Manchester United, week in and week out requires that a player is one of the best in the world in his preferred position.
But to Jones’ credit he has responded strongly this season after a rather frustrating 2012/13. He has still not locked in a place in the side, but what will have pleased him after the game against the Arsenal is that he looked at home both at centre half and as a defensive midfielder. In the first half he acted as an enforcer, plugging all the holes in United’s midfield, and following the head injury to Nemanja Vidic he slotted in at centre half and performed quite admirably there as well.
What was even more impressive about Jones was his distribution of the ball, as he had a 95% successful pass completion rate. What will be interesting to see is whether Moyes uses Jones in midfield or at the back, where the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic need a break from time to time.
When Tom Cleverley was breaking into the Manchester United first team there was a lot of talk about how he would be the long term successor to Paul Scholes. It is safe to assume that Cleverley is a long way from meeting those heady expectations.
What will have worried Cleverley even more at the start of the season was whether Moyes would trust in his abilities the same way that Ferguson had. The early signs were not encouraging as he was dropped after United’s defeat at Anfield and there was a feeling that he could be bullied too easily and lacked the sharpness of mind to play in the really big games. Subsequently, he injured himself in training but since those setbacks he has acquitted himself quite well with some solid performances, none more than his all action display against Fulham.
That day in the absence of Carrick he was the heartbeat of United’s midfield and a lot of the good play that the Red Devils produced originated at the feet of Cleverley. What makes his case for a midfield role more stronger is the fact that none of the other contenders, barring Kagawa, are known for their passing abilities, something which is the forte of this Manchester United academy graduate.
When David Moyes signed Marouane Fellaini for 27.5 million pounds it seemed as if the price paid was on the high side considering that the Belgian is not a proven commodity on the European stage. Those fears have not proven misplaced till now with the former Everton man looking short of the class required at a club of United’s stature.
However, Fellaini would know that now is the perfect time to start producing those powerful performances in the middle of the park that made him such a favourite at Goodison Park. He has frequently expressed his desire to play at the base of the diamond for United but with the presence of Carrick in the side such a request reduced the level of creativity, forcing Rooney to drop deep and link the midfield with the attack. Due to Carrick’s injury though, if Fellaini is partnered with someone like a Cleverley or a Kagawa it would lend power and verve to the United midfield.
How a man of such talent has still not secured a place in the United side is one of the main issues frequently picked up by both the fans and the media. It is not as if he has not had the chances to prove himself but simply that he is a very one dimensional player. The Japanese looks at home when playing as the No. 10 but with Rooney firing on all cylinders Moyes has not had the chance to play him there. Instead he has been shunted to the left wing. This not only reduces the width of United’s play due to the propensity of Kagawa to cut inside but also exposes Evra to the opposing winger.
The Japanese knows that he will have to prove himself this season or look for new pastures come the summer transfer window. But he will also realize that now is the time to prove his worth to the United faithful and justify the high expectations which accompanied him from Dortmund.
Possible Combinations in Carrick’s absence
The possible midfield for the next 6 weeks should see Fellaini or Jones partnered with Kagawa or Cleverley. Fellaini should expect to get a higher share of game time due to the fact that Jones might be deployed as a centre half on some occasions.
Moyes though must be his own man for he will know that his midfield selection in the absence of Carrick will have a huge role in deciding how well his debut season at Manchester United pans out.