Michael Carrick was rested on Sunday as Manchester United comfortably beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. From initially being left out of the team by new manager Jose Mourinho until late October, the 35-year-old has been vital since being restored to the role of regular starter and will be back for Thursday's crucial Europa League clash with Anderlecht.
Rumour has it that a new 12-month contract extension is just around the corner for Carrick to prolong his time at Old Trafford - the former West Ham junior is already having a well deserved testimonial this summer - and he remains not only key for United, but is also still one of the top performers in his position anywhere in Europe.
Rather than a destructive defensive midfielder or a box-to-box engine, Carrick is the archetypal example of a 'deep-lying playmaker' (DLP), a role given increasing attention in recent years thanks to the quality and difficult to ignore importance of individuals like Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso.
Data from a table compiled by Whoscored contributor Tiago Estêvão has highlighted 17 of the premier DLPs in Europe, from established stars like Sergio Busquets, Marco Verratti and the aforementioned Alonso to rising talents such as Marcos Llorente and Amadou Diawara.
Deep-Lying Playmakers are a growing trend in European football, I compared a selection of them in this table.
[rt's appreciated] pic.twitter.com/AN9qP66ECR
— Tiago Estêvão (@TiagoEstv) April 10, 2017
Carrick hasn't made the same overall volume of passes per game as many of his equivalents - his 51.5 is only just over half of Napoli's Jorginho (94.6) or Verratti at Paris Saint-Germain (82.9) - but it's what he does with the ball that is more important.
Where Verratti is dispossessed or loses the ball with bad control an average of 3.2 times per game, Carrick is just 0.4, the lowest and therefore best value of all 17 players included.
And while the United man is only making 0.5 key passes per game, a whole 1 less than Alonso, three quarters (74.8%) of all his passes go forward rather than sideways or backwards. He may not be playing the final balls, but is nearly always looking up the field.
Again, that is a leading value for all the DLPs in question. To compare, only 70.4% of Alonso's passes have been played forward, while it is similar for Busquets and down at 63.2% for Borussia Dortmund's Julian Weigl.
When it comes to passing accuracy, Carrick is more than competitive with 89.3% of his attempts finding their intended recipient. Weigl at 90.3% and Roque Mesa of Las Palmas at 91.7% are the only two individuals who can boast an accuracy level above 90%.
As far as accuracy is concerned, Carrick is the same as Busquets and better than Verratti and Alonso.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the veteran at Manchester United that continues to steal the headlines, but Michael Carrick is continuing to play at a top level on a consistent basis and deserves every ounce of praise and admiration that comes his way.
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