Several weeks ago the back pages were unanimous in the thinking; Jose Mourinho was failing, Paul Pogba was a fraud and Manchester United have spent hundreds of millions only to fail to get top four by a long distance.
Just a few weeks on, Manchester United are marching, just four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, through to the next round of the UEFA Europa League and Mourinho now seems a lot calmer during games. But what has been the major reason for this change in form?
‘Carrick has set Pogba free’ claims Rio Ferdinand
Writing in The Sunday Times, the 35-year-old, former Manchester United central defender who won every major competition with Manchester United there was to win, wrote that "Pogba had a prickly start to his second United career but now he is looking like his real self and it’s down to several factors."
Ferdinand explained that one such factor "is Mourinho finding his best team and finding the best position for him, but Pogba will be the first to say that the biggest change has been the reintroduction of Carrick. Carrick feeds him the ball early, quickly and in areas where he can do damage before teams get set the way they were doing before."
It is hard to argue with this claim. Since Carrick has become a regular in the Manchester United starting line-up under Mourinho, United as a whole side has been on a slow but steady march, winning game after game. But for Pogba personally it’s the ball distribution, as Ferdinand himself points out, which is allowing the world record signing to flourish.
When playing alongside the likes of Marouane Fellaini, the Belgian doesn’t pass it forwards quickly or distribute possession, that isn’t how he plays. Carrick, however, takes the defensive duties away from Pogba, but is also an incredible passer of the ball and always times his passes well to allow Pogba to run onto short passes and keep away from the defenders and midfielders charging him down.
Allowing the Frenchman to be more direct, rather than starting from a static position, is making defending sides back off, opening up space for Pogba to pick a pass.
How Carrick is controlling the side
Defensively without Michael Carrick, United do seem a lot more fragile. He may not offer an aerial prowess like Fellaini is supposed to, but he keeps things calm at the back, doesn’t put the back four under pressure with stupid mistakes or poor passes and most importantly, he screens the opposition so well he knows where to position himself.
Ander Herrera is another player who is benefitting by being with Carrick, Herrera is being given more freedom to link up with Pogba with that superb pass through for Mkhitaryan for the one and only goal against Tottenham in a 1-0 victory.
If Carrick continues to allow Pogba to play his best football, then United have every chance of reaching the top four and enjoying multiple extended cup runs.