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Missing in action: Could Carrick be catalyst for Man United trophies?

The quiet character of Michael Carrick has been looming over Old Trafford this season, or rather, his absence has. Now the Manchester United (4/1 with Coral to win a major trophy) midfield maestro looks set to return and make his long-awaited first outing under Louis van Gaal.

After suffering from an ill-timed ankle injury in pre-season, Carrick is unlikely to be thrown into the fray of a feisty derby against Manchester City, but could play some part in the Etihad clash. If not, the 32-year-old could be pencilled in to feature against Crystal Palace, as fans clamour for the unlikely hero’s reappearance.

Since being sidelined, as tends to happen, Carrick has grown in stature, apparently becoming the missing piece in the Red Devils’ jigsaw, but is the former England international really the answer? After all, the former Tottenham star was hardly at his best last season, with his poor form resulting in an omission from Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

Old Trafford legend Bryan Robson, whose hustle and bustle style was at the heart of Manchester United’s early 90s success, has chipped in with his say.

Speaking ahead of the derby, Robson said: “Michael’s been a big miss to United. When he was injured last season he was a big loss to us and again this season.

“He’s an intelligent player who gets into the right areas. He’s about 6ft 2in and defensively at set plays is very good. He intercepts things very well. That’s why he’s important as well.”

In stark contrast to Robson’s swashbuckling, all-action style, composed Carrick has often been overlooked and undervalued. In the Red Devils’ last title winning campaign, back in 2012/13, he finally seemed to be awarded the praise and recognition he deserved.

At times he appeared to be almost single-handedly holding United’s midfield together, shielding the defence, orchestrating attacks from deep and pinging forward some sensationally accurate long-balls. Arguably as influential as rampant Robin van Persie in securing title number 20, a season in which he made 36 Premier League appearances, Carrick will be aiming to hit those heights again.

Last term Carrick made over 700 fewer passes in his deep lying role under David Moyes than in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season, reflecting his struggles to adapt to the new style of play. With Van Gaal now at the helm, Carrick should be back at the peak of his powers.

Although never the fastest across the pitch, experienced Carrick is always quick in thought, meaning his increasing age should not suffer too much from his new Dutch coach’s appreciation for speed. Now there are others to do the leg-work.

With United (outsiders at 25/1 to win the Premier League) conceding 13 times in nine games this term, his calm authority is missed and, once the Red Devils stop leaking goals, their potent offence should make them a match for any team. Despite Carrick being mooted with a move to central defence over summer, it is clear Van Gaal’s team need further protection and screening from midfield.

In the hunt for trophies, a partnership of Carrick and fellow unsung hero Daley Blind could be just what the red half of Manchester require. It may not be the most robust pairing, but the Englishman’s excellent reading of the game and Blind’s intelligence is a tantalising combination. Plus Marouane Fellaini is always an alternative option if a little more physicality is needed to mop up attacks.

Expectations should certainly be tempered, however, with Carrick a notorious slow-starter. If he fails to make an instant impact and attention is moved away from him, the languid playmaker may just thrive once again in his relative anonymity.