At the end of last season, it was touch and go whether the FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace would be Michael Carrick's last appearance in a Manchester United shirt.
He was approaching 35 years of age, and had yet to have any discussions regarding a contract extension. Louis van Gaal's departure threw more doubt on the subject, but ultimately Jose Mourinho sanctioned a one-year deal.
On the face of it, it made good sense, but right now the question could be asked, why? Not because Carrick is over-the-hill, not a bit of it, but why give him a contract if you are not going to play him? He has made three appearances this season in three different competitions, but not once has he played a league game.
Carrick brings greater control and tempo than the rest
He played in the Charity Shield, as United beat the champions Leicester City. He played and scored in the League Cup victory over Northampton Town and last week starred in the Europa League romp over Fenerbahce. In each game, he has provided control in midfield that United badly lack.
Against Fenerbahce he was magnificent. Paul Pogba grabbed the headlines with two goals against the Turks, but Carrick was the platform for Pogba to perform.
He is an exceptionally intelligent player, and he is genuinely two-footed. He is one of only two players that can give United control in the most important area on the pitch. The other is Bastian Schweinsteiger.
United have controlled games this season in Carrick's absence, but only in the sense that they have more of the ball than the opposition. They rarely control the tempo of a game, and that is where Carrick excels. He does what others do, passes sideways and back, but when he has to be incisive he can spot and play a crucial forward pass.
It is totally understandable that Carrick will not play every game. Mourinho could not expect Carrick to start every game. However, using him this sparingly is extremely surprising. Carrick still looks very fit, and he seems to be better in possession than ever. Against Fenerbahce, he had a 97% pass completion rate, which is extraordinary.
Fellaini not good enough for the Red Devils
Maybe Mourinho thinks that the hustle and bustle of the Premier League is too much for Carrick these days, and the speed of a Liverpool or Chelsea or the brawn of a Stoke City or Burnley will find him out. Well, there is an answer to that train of thought. Carrick cannot, simply cannot, do any worse than Mourinho's golden child Marouane Fellaini.
No matter what position the Belgian takes up, it is a false one. False in so much that he is robbing a better player of that shirt. His latest abysmal effort against Chelsea saw his blushes spared by an injury after being on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from David Luiz. He would certainly have been hauled off had he not been injured.
Ryan Giggs stopped short of criticising Fellaini on TV recently, but he did say that if you tell Fellaini to do something, he does it straight away.
Does that mean managers are telling him to run into any opposition player in possession of the football, no matter where they are on the pitch? Do the say pull players shirts whenever you are in reach? Every aerial challenge is he asked to lead with his elbows and clatter someone?
He looks devoid of brain cells sometimes, his perpetual fouling borders on ridiculous. He occasionally provides a nuisance value and he occasionally has a positive instance on games, including big ones. Most of his United career has been spent coming off the pitch having contributed nothing positive. He is not a Manchester United player. Not even as an impact battering ram.
United are struggling. In bygone days, you would look at Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, and they are the barometers. United won trophy after trophy because they had that calibre of player. Two of the greatest midfielders ever, it is unfair to compare against them.
Yet United also had Nicky Butt in that era, who played in his fair share of games and won just as many trophies. Fellaini couldn't hold a candle to "Buttie" let alone the other two.
Pogba needs a stable partner
Paul Pogba is a big player. He will come good, but he is clearly requiring help. He needs some experience around him, he needs a calm head, and he needs someone who is going to release him so he can play. Ander Herrera can't do that, but he can provide legs and a bit of bite. He could rub shoulders with Butt, no problem. He deserves a place in the team right now.
Morgan Schneiderlin - is he still at United? He is someone that seems to have disappeared, but he is also a disappointment and just a stopper. He can sit, but he can't control a game. Wayne Rooney provides an element of control and can pass a ball, but he is slower than Carrick and is not a midfielder, but Schweinsteiger is. He could also help United right now.
Mourinho is touted as one of the best managers in the world, but he must be able to see that there needs to be proper game managers out on the pitch. He has been clear on Schweinsteiger's situation. He wanted him out in the summer, but he hasn't forced him out. By trying to break his spirit and not consider him, he may get his wish in January.
Yet United are paying his wages, and right now a half fit Schweinsteiger is a more preferable option to a fully fit Belgian lamp post. It won't happen though, and that was probably another reason Carrick got his contract.
He is the experience, he is the calming influence. Well, it is time that knowledge and class was used a bit more often, and not just in the odd walk over cup game.