Manchester United: Sadly Carrick Expected to Start over Fletcher Against Barca

Nathan LoweAnalyst IMay 26, 2011

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Michael Carrick gestures during a training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi final second leg match against Schalke 04 at the Carrington Training Ground on May 3, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United fans will have to endure another Michael Carrick performance against Barcelona if their side are to emerge Saturday with the European Cup in tow.

Reports out of the Red Devil's camp indicate the influential Scotsman will cruelly miss out on another Champions League final after being unused against Chelsea in 2008 and suspended for Barcelona in 2009.

It's a tragic stroke of luck for Fletcher, arguably United's best player last season, who was beset by a pestilent virus for seven weeks before only just beginning to return to fitness lately.

He had a conciliatory air in making vague comments today to ESPN, stating, "It's not for me to decide. All you can do is your best.

"The lads who have got us there have done really well, so the manager has a lot of decisions to make."

Assistant coach Mike Phelan further lubricated the masses for Fletcher's exclusion, saying "Darren Fletcher, up and running and firing on all cylinders, gives us a hard job of picking the team.

"But it's never easy to come back when you've been out for so long. Darren has had a difficult time."

It's too bad for United. In the 2009 final, Carrick had arguably the worst display of any Red, prancing around midfield vacantly while opposing players expressed themselves freely around him.

Former and future Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas offered his opinion on the significance of having Carrick instead of Fletcher against the Catalan club Saturday.

"Manchester United will play against Barca as they did against Arsenal, with three men in midfield that guarantee soundness," the Gunner told El Mundo Deportivo.

"Fletcher joins the team when Ferguson has opted for a midfield three. There's also Anderson but I do not think he will play at Wembley.

"Fletcher is the only player in the United team who can do a man-marking job on Iniesta and Xavi."

Carrick, though, is taking exception to the view that he's not rated to wear a red shirt, highlighting the club's success since his arrival.

"When people have said I've not been good enough for United's midfield, sometimes I do wonder what is good enough for them," he told the Daily Mirror.

"I've had a fantastic time here after winning four titles in five years and three Champions League finals, and of course I'm maybe frustrated at times, because it's winning trophies that sets teams and players apart, and we've done that."

It's easy to rationalize how good you are when your team is successful, but it'd be easy to argue Untied won in spite of Carrick, not because of him. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra's arrival in 2006 was what really glue together United's surge in the latter half of the decade.

Obviously much of that success can still be attributed to Cristiano Ronaldo being better than anyone else in the league.

Add in Berbatov, Tevez, and Ronaldo's contributions, with some Park, Giggs, and Scholes sprayed around, and there are at least nine other Manchester United players who would claim to be far more influential over United's reign than the lanky England international.

"But then I can catch myself and say, 'Why the hell are you worrying about it?' It's there for people to see, and if they can't, so what?," Carrick rationalized.

"You hope that people realise you must be doing something right to achieve what we have competing against the best teams in the world, but if not, then does that matter? The only thing that matters in the next trophy."

The next trophy is what matters, to be sure, but whether he is the right man for the job, instead of even a semi-fit Fletcher, is debatable.

Carrick spent most of this season looking quite poorly until a decent run in the last six weeks removed any mid-term memory of the contrary from most fan's minds. Just as people might say Wayne Rooney had a good season at United despite being so bad for six months.

The recency principle plays a great role here, relegating both player's season-long performance in the backseat as more recent successes gloss over past failings.

Carrick showed in 2009 that he didn't have the bottle for the occasion, nor did he match-up well against a side who dominate midfield with quick, small passing.

Fletcher's engine in the middle fits the occasion perfectly, though sadly United may have to be behind at half-time before his name makes any match reports.

If Carrick is characteristically woeful on Saturday—as he was been so many times already this season and during others to earn his reputation as a timid, second-rate midfielder - he should find the exit door this summer, though he might anyway.

Hopefully the new contract he signed last month was more an admission from the Reds' brass that they only hope to get something for a player who wouldn't look out of place idly passing sideways in a Championship side.

However, Carrick could do his tenure at United a lot of good by getting stuck in. and most importantly, displaying a passion and a drive Saturday usually far removed from his performances in red.


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