The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

November 28, 2016 Tags: , Reads 8 comments
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There’s a lot to be said about Manchester United’s current plight. For all the so-called dominance on the pitch, results aren’t coming José Mourinho’s way. Increasingly the Europa League looks like United’s best route to Champions League football next season. In common with Thursday’s victory, United’s best results this season have come with Michael Carrick in the team. So how can Mourinho extract the most from his ageing midfielder?

Perhaps the Reds’ draw with West Ham United at Old Trafford shouldn’t be a huge surprise given Carrick’s absence. Whenever the Geordie starts the odds are that United will pull out a positive result. Carrick’s presence enables Mourinho’s team to operate in a 4-3-3 system, utilizing the midfielder’s vision, passing and football intelligence.

The balance Carrick offers both defensively and in attack cannot be underestimated. He’s the conductor, the metronome, the thoughtful general. He’s also 35-years old and needs to be used sparingly, presenting Mourinho with a dilemma; how can United operate efficiently without Carrick in the starting line-up?

Typically, United might look to the market and the January window is just weeks away, but by that time any new recruits arrive they could have too much to do if things don’t go well for United in December.

Yet, there may already be a solution within José’s squad that could provide temporary relief in the shape of Dutchman Daley Blind. The former Ajax player is the closest thing to a ‘Carrick-type’ at Old Trafford, and in a sense the idea of playing Blind in Carrick’s role seems obvious as the pair are both fantastic distributors of the ball, tactically disciplined and intelligent.

Michael Carrick

Blind suffered something of a false dawn in the holding midfield role on début when he shone against a mediocre Queens Park Rangers team. In subsequent matches the player struggled against opponents who could overload the area of the pitch where Blind was operating, exploiting the his lack of pace and physicality. Yet, much of Blind’s time in midfield was in Louis van Gaal’s 4-4-2 diamond, effectively leaving Blind isolated at the base of the midfield and exposed to on-rushing attackers.

Playing in a 4-3-3 could be more suited to Blind’s game as he would benefit from the dynamism of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera to compensate for his own lack of pace. Each of the trio is a gifted technician, offering a passing range and level of guile the could form an effective middle three. Whatever the travails this season there is more than a modicum of talent in Mourinho’s squad.

Despite being a jack of all trades Blind does have the ability to master, to an acceptable level, the roles he has been assigned during his time at United –  left-back, centre-back and occasionally as a holding midfielder. Are there better options around? At United, Blind should play second fiddle to Carrick, while the Dutchman will never be world-class in the role. Yet, therein lies a major issue – Carrick’s role is vital and there will be very few players of his quality available in the summer let alone during the upcoming January window.

"Carrick offers balance in defence and attack. He’s the conductor, the metronome, the thoughtful general. He’s also 35-years old and needs to be used sparingly."

Mourinho could plan to recruit Paris Saint Germain’s Marco Verratti, for example, or invest in Corentin Tolisso’s promise, but here and now the Portuguese manager must use the players available – and make it work. Another season out of the Champions League is not going to benefit anybody at the club, making next summer’s window all that more tricky.

Another argument in Blind’s promotion to ‘Carrick understudy’ is the notion that it is in United’s best interests to press on with with a 4-3-3 and not switch back to Mourinho’s favoured 4-2-3-1. Blind is not an ideal solution, but is the next best option if Carrick cannot play every game. Not least because the alternatives are all a compromise too: Bastian Schweinsteiger is in the shop window, Morgan Schneiderlin’s future at Old Trafford seems bleaker with each passing game, while Marouane Fellaini has never been suited to a defensive midfield role at any level.

Could Blind could become the apprentice to Carrick’s sorcerer and improve on past performances? The Dutchman is now used to the hustle and bustle of the English game, is intelligent enough to pick up the nuances of the position, while his passing has become more incisive from the heyday of Van Gaal’s sideways scrolls.

In the end, drafting Blind into midfield when Carrick needs a rest is a pragmatic strategy, but Mourinho is nothing if not a sober  decision-maker. If the manager sees merit in playing a 4-3-3 over 4-2-3-1, regardless of whether Carrick is available or not, he will do it. The tools are available, the question remains whether he willing to use them.

Daley Blind

More generally, while there is frustration at yet another two points lost, there are signs that Mourinho’s side could develop into a very good outfit. Chances are being created, game plans are clear, and the style is more expansive compared to last season’s approach.

While there is no single solution to address United’s inconsistency, the shift to a 4-3-3 appears to offer more fluidity given the players available. And if Carrick cannot player every week, then the next best thing is Blind.

Blind’s versatility could even help United discover and maintain a level of continuity as the Portuguese manager seeks for an elusive winning formula.


Rob Dinsmore - November 29, 2016 Reply

Great shout, blind is the only one in the squad with the requisite skills to play that role. Carrick clearly cannot play every match and yet the shape with him in there has looked so much better, finding we have a ready made alternative could be useful. I think Pogba looks far more like what we want when given a license to roam where the full range of his silky Rolls-Royce touch combined with true physicality stands out. Some of his shooting and passing give a glimpse of what he can do, but he does need a partner that can let him off the leash, just watch a juve pog highlights on tube if you doubt it.

The fee was nuts but he can be a beating heart of the team, Mou knows this and it is reflected in his management of him. He rarely offers anything but support, correctly I guess but again it leaves me felling the jury is out on whether Pogba truly wants it. The money made sense for him and his agent obviously and will, probably make sense for us too in terms of shirts, profile and sell-on fee (doubt we get it all back but probably a lot, depends if we re-establish ourselves as a force or he plays mint for a couple more seasons before being picked off by someone at the ragged edge) he really is the modern player in all of its good and bad bits and I guess my current uncertainty on him lies at the fact I don’t much have much insight into his ego or character yet either, I don’t see many interviews and those dances with lingard are are a bit gash and feel a bit ‘for Facebook’ maybe that’s my age showing. (I’m 35)

When I see him using his imposing frame to intimidate opponents, consistently looking like the monster he threatens to be and lashing them in or laying them on from all angles then he can do all the shit dances he wants! I hope he wants it to work as much as we all do, but he has not fully convinced me of that yet…

I am cautious about big expectations on signing a player from abroad, but encouraged by the fact he is coming back to familiarity. In terms of potential for a quick re-assimilation into English football (forget the bonkers finances) I’m hopeful but realistic about it all, he has shown some real flashes of quality.

Overall feelings about pog range somewhere between pride that we have the balls to be at the front again, (paying a world record fee) and rage that the decline had to sink in for so long before glazernomics concluded they had to start shoving some quids in to maintain the fruity that had been paying out for far too long, before it broke down so much it was done.

In business most major strengths manifest themselves as weaknesses and Ferguson became such a epoch-defining mega-hero that we were always inevitably going to suffer when he went. Don’t think the intelligent (annoying but true) people sat counting their cash don’t think about all this.

I wonder if they read this blog tho where I have seen plenty of talk suggesting a sporting director or similar to give a level of structure that can deliver continuity not withstanding a coach/managerial change. Our structure is outdated because it is based on an all encompassing mega-brain to define all the strategy which is beyond anyone in its current guise, the only way you could ever manage it is if you were there every day building it for over two decades since it all began. Fergie did that so marvellously and era-definingly well, so yes he could. Got news for everyone, that is all a distant memory and united resembles more a lumbering juggernaut these days. Sad as it is to say, there is too much sh*t not about football. The press will always stoke it up but the team should write headlines with performances and that’s it.

It really seems like we went sh*t or bust with Mou this year and I hope it works out. The sums are eye-watering for it all but it each new mega-deal starts to lose it’s impact on me these days. It’s great to see since the post-fergie cash-dash began we might finally be starting to spunk some of our mega-doe on players that can get us back to regularly winning games and I think we have been a bit unlucky in the last few when we battered teams without getting the win at OT.

Zlatan looks like a monster still, even when he went through a bit of a drought, he just needs feeding. Our squad has real quality in it, if Mou could just settle on his best team and cheer up a little bit…

In time I think Mou will be successful. So far my personal jury is still out about whether or not he truly respects the values of the club. I know he knows what they are and I hear him talk about them but he still has to fully earn my trust. I don’t want to hear anything from him except football. In many ways he does many similar things to fergie which I respect and gives me some hope. I would like to see him try to reflect the strength of a guy that has the backing of the establishment and is building a long term plan a bit more, he looks a bit too stressed. I’m sure he would admit privately fergie was an idol and if I put the grotesque nature of the money aside he is the guy I would want the job in the hands of after both our last two bosses both seemed too daunted by the task in hand. I am grateful Mou does not look like that, he was probably the only manager with the b*llocks to succeed fergie and after some fallow years he is much better set to lift us back up.

It’s going to need a bit more patience before we get back to the promised land but United are always there as a beacon for other teams to measure themselves to, no more so than now.

We need him to instil in every one of them, the need the fans have for each lad to go out there and defend the history of the shirt they wear, have pride and stand tall. Come on UNITED!

My advice for everyone at United if they want to get the fans on side is to get their heads downs and work hard, no more stories or headlines about anything other than working hard to win football matches more than anyone else, that’s what we used to be known for.

Personally I would like Mou to calm down a little bit, stop shouting and getting sent off. He has one of the best managerial records in world football, he has the highest paid squad in the world (for what that is worth?) and he has time on his side and money to spend. Time to earn that salary Mou.

Jaydubya - November 29, 2016 Reply

How is it that mourinho feels zlatan at 35 can play every game but Carrick needs kid gloves??our team is being mismanaged into oblivion and it hurts.players obviously take some blame also but mourinhos decision making and squad management is fucking bizarre

Ramnik Dhar - November 29, 2016 Reply

I always believed Blind would be the natural successor to Carrick when he was bought. I don’t think it’s important to have pace and physicality while playing as a defensive midfielder. You look at Carrick who I think was one of the best players in the world in that position. Was he ever considered a physically imposing player?
Blind is one of the most intelligent footballers I have come across in the modern game. His vision and ability to make a pass are seriously underrated. Remember his pass for RVP in Spain vs Holland in WC 2014. And besides that I think we will struggle to find a better reader of the game than him in the market. A midfield 3 of blind pogba and Herrera is the way forward.

Denton Davey - November 29, 2016 Reply

It seems just so obvious. When/IF the injuries to Smalling/Bailly are sorted then Blind should be designated for “TheCarrickRole” so that 4-3-3 can be the obvious, go-to formation which will get the best out of Paul Pogba – otherwise, what was the point of spending so much money for him ?

j-diz - November 29, 2016 Reply

Schweinsteiger should be fit again soon, and if given the chance I think he will do a fine job there.

subterranean steve - November 30, 2016 Reply

Whilst Blind might have some of the characteristics of Carrick e.g. reads the game well, decent passer of the ball, he is not strong enough to be seen as his successor. He would be easier to overrun (relative to Carrick) and his lack of a right foot is a hindrance when distributing from a central position. A short term stand-in for Carrick? – possibly, but not his long term replacement.

If the purpose of ‘the Carrick role’ is to link front to back, to help United keep it’s shape, to control possession in centre-midfield, amongst other things, and to leave the box to box stuff to Herrera (he has touch of the Robbo’s about him) thus creating freedom for Pogba, then couldn’t Schweinsteiger do such a job? He is three years younger than Carrick and whilst the feeling is that he is not the force he was, he could definitely play a part this season. Of course, Mourinho has decided that he doesn’t want him and is trying to squeeze him out, but is that in United’s best interests right now?

For what it’s worth, I would play Carrick in the Premier League matches and leave the mid-week cup matches to others.

Emmyleo Balbao - November 30, 2016 Reply

i must hope Mr mou is reading all the articles and comments…. because it seems all things written here is just for the fans…..
Mr mou have lost his technical ability, u can see he’s outdated with his grumpy and nasty behavior including his selection and substitute

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