To discover how brave and new Michael Carrick’s Manchester unido world will be, tune in on Tuesday for their penultimate Champions League group game against Villarreal.
How will the interim manager instruct the team to operate at the Estadio de la Cerámica and can it really be vastly tactically different to the one-dimensional proposition witnessed in recent weeks under Ole Gunnar Solskjær?
Carrick finds himself in charge of United after the Norwegian was sacked on Sunday, with the dire 4-1 defeat by Watford on Saturday following similar embarrassments against Liverpool and Manchester City in a run of form of only one win in seven league outings.
As a football strategist Carrick – perhaps the last high-calibre midfielder signed by United, de nuevo en 2006 – would hardly bill himself alongside Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola or even Unai Emery, whose Villarreal qualified for the Champions League when beating United to the Europa League title En Mayo.
Yet this is the arena the 40‑year‑old now enters. As one of Solskjær’s former assistants, he was already being scrutinised regarding the lack of structured play that has so badly cost United.
The charges against Solskjær’s side included a lack of concerted pressing, vague forward patterns, a defence and midfield that were strangers to each other and predictable counterattack ploys. Carrick’s experience runs to half a season under José Mourinho and almost three years alongside Solskjær. He offered what might be viewed as a concerning answer to the question of whether United will be transformed under him.
“We’ll have to see, De Verdad,” Carrick said. “Obviously I’ve worked closely with Ole for a long time now and we do have very similar beliefs. We did as players and we certainly do as coaches and manager. Of course I’ve got my own personality, but it’s very similar, that’s why we worked together for so long and it went so well for a period of time.
“I’m not giving too much away of what my plans are but I’m very clear in my own mind what we want to do. I have my own ideas about how we want to play, how we want to go about it and I’m looking forward to seeing that on the pitch.”
Pessimistic fans will note the “similar beliefs” and wonder if United will be as aimless as under Solskjær, while those drinking from a half-full glass might centre on “my own ideas” and hope for the team to start appearing as it should: a highly drilled unit that knows precisely what it should be doing at any moment and in any scenario.
Hay, por supuesto, mitigation in Carrick having less than 48 hours to prepare United. His popularity with players and the respect he holds in the dressing room should help, with a CV that contains a Champions League winners’ medal, five Liga Premier titles, the FA Cup, Europa League, Club World Cup and two League Cups.
But can a quiet, thoughtful man be ruthless enough to shake United from their torpor? “Obviously it’s a challenge," él dijo. “First there was the initial reaction and coming to terms with the situation. But quite quickly you’ve got to focus – there’s a responsibility here, it’s such a great club, it’s such a privilege to be working at this club in whatever capacity, never mind the position I’m in now. So I don’t take that lightly in any way, shape or form.
“It’s just throwing myself into doing everything I can. Of course it’s a limited time, I’m well aware of that, but it’s a challenge that I’m relishing at the moment. It’s a huge responsibility – I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve got great people helping me and working with me, a great group of players. I know it’s not been what we wanted it to be of late, but it’s a fantastic group of players, they’ve proved that before and they’ll go on and prove that again.
“Whether it’s one game or two games, whether it’s a stretch longer than that, right now I’m not too sure and that’s not something that’s on my mind, it’s all about [Villarreal]. It’s a big game obviously for us in terms of the group stages and trying to get through.”
Es. United have seven points, in front of Villarreal thanks to superior goal difference, with Atalanta third on five and Young Boys bottom with three. After their midweek trip, United next visit Chelsea on Sunday. Results are always important but how United set out under Carrick, starting on Tuesday evening, is what fascinates.