It was inevitable that all the focus would be on Alexis Sanchez at Huish Park on Friday night. Most pundits were raving about the Chilean’s performance and most gave him man of the match. He worked hard and you can see what he will bring the the side. His energy, enthusiasm and ability could give the normal pedestrian United play a welcome new dimension. But he was not the best player in the pitch for me. First half he gave the ball away more than anyone else and how anyone is giving him an assist for Rashford’s opener is beyond me. Sanchez gave him the ball but what followed looked more like a FIFA PlayStation glitch than a professional football team defending. The Yeovil defenders decided to leave the ball for Rashford to sweep home from 7 yards. As bright as Sanchez’s debut may have been, it was a player who is at the complete opposite end of the United career spectrum that deserved the man of the match title more.
Michael Carrick is the oldest and longest serving member of Jose Mourinho’s squad and recently chose that this would be his final season at Old Trafford. He has not played a minute of football for the club since September following unexpected heart problems. In his absence, Nemanja Matic has picked up that defensive central midfield role well and will continue to do so. But when it comes to passing ability, United haven’t had many better than the Englishman.
On Friday night, he could have been excused for being rusty and taking time to get back into full stride. However, Carrick had other ideas and instead looked like he had been playing all season. Sir Alex always used to say that Carrick was a slow starter to the season but there was nothing slow about his performance at Yeovil. He had a 95% passing accuracy and he controlled the game from first minute to last. Ander Herrera put in as good an attacking display as I have seen for sometime and that was partly down to the opposition, but largely down to the confidence Carrick allowed him to play with. United have struggled with the pace of their play at times this season, that is down to the speed at which they are able to link the play between defence and attack. With Carrick as the deep playmaker, United have the ability to play the ball forward quicker, making most of the runs made by the wingers and striker. Time after time Carrick mixed up his passing, to take United forward and Yeovil simply couldn’t lay a glove on him.
There was one ball in particular that emphasised this point in the second half. The ball was fizzed back into Carrick who had the ability to sweep the ball first time out to the left wing leading to another United attack. It may not have come to anything, but showcased just how Carrick’s vision and technique has been hugely underrated for years. Mourinho would have loved to have had him fit for the majority of this season as he offers so much control for his side. He controls the tempo and brings an element of calm when others seem to panic, a little bit like Juan Mata does when he is in the side. In the big games, especially vs City, Carrick would have given United that little bit more in possession. Where United lacked that bit of class into Lukaku, or couldn’t play out from defence, or couldn’t find the runs of Pogba, Martial or Rashford, Carrick could and probably would have done.
It’s a huge shame this is to be his last season for the club, but at least it gives Mourinho the next 7 months to find his replacement. The club have a history of struggling to bring in an adequate replacement for big stars, it is a must they find a similar calming presence and passing maestro to fill the Carrick void. It may have been Sanchez that took most of the plaudits and headlines on Friday night and it may have only been Yeovil, but Carrick showed what a class act he is and has been for the club. Putting in such a commanding display after so long out further highlighted that class.