Michael The Main Man At Man United

England’s best player, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, was back to his goal-scoring best yesterday, dictating the tempo in a swashbuckling whitewash of Spurs.

But while compatriot Wayne Rooney’s knockout celebrations stole the headlines, Michael Carrick’s typically understated display underlined his importance to Manchester United’s chances of a top four finish.

While David de Gea will undoubtedly win the club’s Player of the Season again – and Rooney’s restoration to a striking role has unsurprisingly been rewarded with goals – the return of the club’s oldest player was crucial to their best performance of the season.

The statistics when Carrick is present are startling. He’s started 14 league games this term – winning nine, drawing four and losing just one.

Extrapolate this record across an entire season and, while not quite title-winning form, it’s certainly enough to ensure a Champions League place next season.

Conversely, United’s form without Carrick in the side is worryingly poor. Seven wins, four draws and four defeats when the former Spurs man hasn’t started garners a points total across a full season that would have finished eighth last term.

Louis van Gaal hailed his vice-captain’s performance yesterday, and rightly so. United have been criticised this season for a perceived reliance on the long ball, often coming due to the defence’s hesitance for shorter forward passes. With Carrick in front of them, they have a trusted outlet that makes the team tick.

Carrick’s pass success percentage of 89.2% is bettered only by Juan Mata at the club and trumps more lauded stars such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure.

These stats are hardly surprising though – Carrick’s selfless, understated work in United’s midfield has led the pass completion figures at Old Trafford for the past three seasons.

It was telling that, despite many key United performances, van Gaal chose to herald Carrick in his post-match interview. He said that Carrick “is one of the best passers also, not only wide but also forward. We need midfielders who have that passing”. It’s something that’s been startlingly absent whenever Carrick has been this season.

Carrick is the glue that binds the defence and attack together, the metronome, the conductor, and without him United are often out of tune – resembling more the white noise between two radio stations than some of the orchestral manoeuvres in the park they produced in the first half yesterday.

Gary Neville, as he often does as a pundit, got it spot on earlier in the season when he said. “Scholes and Carrick together was peaceful. It was like going into a bar and hearing a piano playing”.

David de Gea and Wayne Rooney may be the two members of United’s rock band that win the headlines and, arguably, their best two players.

But as Neville continued “Listening to some good rock is good and you like that too but sometimes it’s nice to listen to a piano. Carrick’s a piano.”