With a Performance Score of 247 points, Manchester United have a clear top performer so far this season.
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and even young Adnan Januzaj may be grabbing all the headlines, but it is Michael Carrick who has really been the integral figure for David Moyes this season.
However, at 32-years-of-age, he won't be around for much longer, and given his age United have to start thinking about a long-term replacement for the England international
Man United Top Performance Scorers This Season
At the moment, there isn't another central midfielder at the club in the mold of Carrick. But what exactly does he do for United?
As a deep-lying playmaker, his job is to help United regain and retain possession as well as build from the back. He sees a lot of the ball during games as he is the man standing between the opposition's attack and his own defence and because the vast majority of United's attacks start with him. And he is quite good at his job.
Starting from the point of regaining possession, he is currently averaging an impressive seven defensive actions per game. An impressive average of 4.4 interceptions per game shows just how good a reader of the game he is, able to position himself well to cut out opponents' passes to thwart their attacks. The 31 interceptions he has made so far is actually the highest in the league.
Top Five Interceptors This Season
He is also a good, clean tackler, coming away with possession 79 per cent of the time this season, having attempted an average of two per game, and committing an average of less than one foul per game.
But despite recording such impressive defensive numbers, regaining possession isn't what Carrick does best. What makes Carrick special is what he does with the ball once he wins or receives it. United legend Paul Scholes is widely renowned for his impeccable vision and passing range. Carrick, though not as revered as his former team-mate and despite not even being on the same level as the ginger-haired maestro, still boasts vision and passing range as his two best qualities.
His current long pass per game rate of 10.3 is the highest of United's central midfielders. Standing just ahead of the centre-back's, he typically raises his head and then launches a pass to pick out a team-mate either standing in space or running into some. A long pass completion percentage of 77.8 and an average of 1.3 chances created per game show just how good he is at executing the ideas he conjures up in his mind. At United, only Patrice Evra has created more chances than Carrick this season.
In addition, the Englishman had a completion percentage of 74.5 last season and created an average of one chance per game, showing he is consistent. Only three United players created more chances than him.
Man United Top Chance Creators This Season
Given his huge influence, when he doesn't play, it reflects in his team's performance; United lack rhythm, ideas, someone to look to for order in a busy midfield. He isn't the type of player who brings energy to the midfield, which is one reason why United's midfield is often over-run by it's opponents'. But the craft, the vision that he brings when on the pitch, makes a huge difference. That said, the fact that he doesn't have an understudy is baffling. Indeed, new signing Marouane Fellaini is capable of playing in the same area of the pitch as Carrick, but he can't do what Carrick does on the ball. The same goes for Phil Jones when he plays in the same position.
Moyes' intention as far as strengthening his midfield is concerned is to bring in a dynamic, attack-minded player, one capable of creating goals as well as taking up positions that would see him score them as well. His pursuit of Francesc Fabregas and interest in Ander Herrera prove that. And United are indeed in need of this type of midfielder, as Tom Cleverley and Anderson have so far failed to carry out this role effectively and consistently.
But if the club is to match the very talented, even world class midfield's of Europe's elite, thus helping them to pose a more serious threat in the Champions League, then a Carrick-type player, preferably a more athletic version, is needed too.