Statistical Analysis: How important is Michael Carrick to Manchester United?

Valerenga v Manchester United Pre Season Friendly

Few fans outside of Manchester tend to talk about Carrick as a top class midfielder. In fact, he is often highlighted as an example of how United lack real quality in the centre of their midfield. Hardly a weekend goes by without an article appearing in a newspaper about how Ferguson has failed to address United’s midfield weaknesses. Carrick has also struggled to impose himself on the international scene, despite statistically fairing well against other English midfielders. England managers simply do not appear to rate him.

Statistical comparison

Tackles won% Mins per tackle Mins per win possession Mins per loss of possession Mins per defensive error Pass accuracy Passes per game Mins per chance created
Carrick 68.29% 45 12 183 913 88.2% 81.7 73
Arteta 66.2% 25 13 225 900 92.6% 85.1 90
Y. Toure 73.91% 82 17 94 942 89.3% 82.5 52
J. Allen 65.31% 35 10 123 344 90.4% 60.4 82
Mikel 78.38% 34 12 128 1,276 89.9% 62.8 213

The comparison is interesting. Whilst Carrick tackles the least out of the obvious holding players (Yaya Toure is used further up the field at times) he still wins possession as often as Mikel and more than Toure and Arteta. This demonstrates that he does have something to offer his side with regards to ball winning and creating transitions for his side from defensive to offensive situations. This is probably an area where Carrick does not get the credit he deserves, in fact last season he was one of the league’s top tacklers with an average of three tackles per game. This again is a high number as we tend to associate Carrick with ball playing not ball winning.

The statistical comparison shows that Carrick is probably superior to Mikel and Allen, whilst similar to Arteta. The main reason for it is to demonstrate that there simply aren’t really any obviously better midfield options available in the league.  Further to this, as a ball player, he is the third best passer in the Premier League, behind Toure and Arteta, demonstrating his importance to the Manchester United side. Toure and Arteta are two of the best midfielders in the league, but Carrick is certainly not far behind them, despite having a less glamorous style of play.

What role does Carrick play?

In truth, it is probably no exaggeration to state than when Carrick plays he is the heart-beat of the United side. It is also not just sideways passes with the player creating chances more frequently than the other listed players, barring Toure. His importance is just consistently overlooked. No United player had more touches of the ball than Carrick had against Liverpool at the weekend. Below is a look at the average positions of United players from the Liverpool game:


Carrick, no.16, is the deepest of all of United’s midfielders, in fact he is their deepest player barring the three centre backs (Jones, Ferdinand and Vidic). This is an area of his game where he does not get enough credit, despite being more inclined to play the ball he is incredibly astute tactically, plugging gaps and making sure he doesn’t leave space in behind. Whilst he can struggle to dictate the tempo if he is man-marked due to limitations in the physical side of the game, he is certainly an excellent off the ball player as a result of his tactical reading of the game. Against Liverpool this was most evident as Carrick attempted 12 ground duels and 5 tackles, as well as winning possession for his side six times, more than any United player.

His ball playing is not only accurate and precise but he plays an important role in linking the play between defence and attack, often picking the ball up in deep positions and distributing it further forward. In the Liverpool game for example no United player played more forward passes than Carrick.


Michael Carrick is arguably one of the most under-rated midfielders in the Premier League. As a ball player he is superb and as a ball winner he is much improved, to the point that Sir Alex Ferguson has used him as an emergency centre-back on occasion. Carrick simply does not get the credit he deserves for his awareness off the ball and ability to read the game, something I attempted to highlight above.  Man United could probably do with another midfielder, perhaps a more destructive, traditional ball winner, but for now Michael Carrick is a key performer for the club and warrants greater recognition for the role he plays.

3 comments for “Statistical Analysis: How important is Michael Carrick to Manchester United?

  1. Jason
    January 16, 2013 at 13:10

    He is not English pirlo. Not English xavi.

    From what I’ve seen this season. He is english busquets

  2. kinanga Patrick
    January 16, 2013 at 16:40

    Carrick is agreat prayer
    Not used well even in the national team, Ibelieve Manchester will have hard time without Himdespite no

  3. csar
    January 17, 2013 at 12:55

    he is just michael carrick, changing roles from cmf a’la xavi > deep lying playmaker a’la pirlo > holding midfielder a’la busquets > till now being both pirlo-esque and busquets-esque player.. all of them with ease, with consistecy, sharped with perfection

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