Michael Carrick has forged a reputation as one of the most skilful passing midfielders in football and he was voted Manchester United's Players' Player of the Year in last season's Premier League title-winning campaign.
For a man who was in the past criticised for failing to dominate games, the 31-year-old England international has now reached his peak and earned his first PFA Player of the Year nomination in 2012/13. He is subtly commanding in the centre of the field, demonstrates superb vision and has a fantastic range of passing - producing more than 2,700 last season.
Such was Carrick's form over the past 12 months, former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in April even went as far as comparing him to an Old Trafford icon: "Michael Carrick has developed into an absolute mature and intelligent footballer, which we always knew he had but he did not have the consistency of Paul Scholes. He has been fantastic. The fans had Scholesy to drool over for years but Michael has taken up the baton and done well."
|Premier League 2012/13||Michael Carrick|
|Total Chances Created||37|
|Total Passes ( Excl Crosses & Corners )||2774|
|Passing Accuracy ( Excl Crosses & Corners )||88.1%|
|Passes Attempted Final third||746|
|Passing Accuracy Final third||73.9%|
|% Passes in Defensive third||14.8%|
|% Passes in Middle third||58.3%|
|% Passes in Attacking third||26.9%|
|% Passes Short||90.0%|
|% Passes Long||10.0%|
However, it has not been without hard work for Carrick and he has had to hone his 88 per cent passing accuracy on the training ground. Sitting in midfield, the former West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur star has to use clever movement combined with one and two-touch passing to create room before he can play that killer ball to a striker.
As United continue their pre-season tour of Australia, Carrick will be working intensely on those skills and the key is the spatial understanding of his team-mates and opposition, as he explains: "I have got to be aware of where the defender is and where the space is around me, so I need to be looking all the time and getting myself into position.
"Once I have done my movement to move the defender to create the space, I have got to start thinking about what I am going to do with the ball - whether I will take one touch or two touches, where the defender is, where my team-mate is and where the space is. It is an instinctive, split-second thing and you need to have that picture in your head to make that decision."
Perhaps the finest demonstration of Carrick's ability was in last season's 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, when he played a stunning long pass over the top of the visiting defence to leave goalkeeper Petr Cech in two minds and allow striker Javier Hernandez to head the opening goal.
But it is the drills which Carrick undertakes which provide him with the skillset with which to produce on the grandest stages. Small-sided games and routines on five-a-side pitches are vitally important and the midfielder uses those regimes to tweak his technique in laying off the ball, creating space and picking the correct number of touches.
New United boss David Moyes, and Carrick in a World Cup season, will be hoping for more of the same when attempting to defend the Premier League title in 2013/14. However, it will not be a simple task in what will be a tough start for the reigning champions.
United will face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in their opening five games and so they need to hit the ground running. Pre-season, training and improving skills and fitness will therefore be an integral process.
"A good pre-season gives you that base you need to keep going throughout the season," Carrick told United's official website. "If you miss pre-season, you have to play catch-up. Every player is different. Some can come back [from the summer break] and get straight back into it but others take a bit more time.
"I think it's a vital part of the year. It is important to get through pre-season and steer clear of injuries and be ready for the games at the start of the campaign."
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Who will win the 2013/14 Premier League title?