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Sep 10, 2006

Carrick confronts his critics

The chants of 'what a waste of money' from the travelling supporters were entirely predictable.

Indeed, perhaps the only surprise was that it took 80 minutes for them to be aired. At £18.6 million, Michael Carrick has an exceptionally large price tag to live up to. In the circumstances, Tottenham perhaps weren't the ideal opponents for his second start in Manchester United colours.

Justifying that transfer fee is harder for a midfielder who, for all his elegance, is essentially an unflashy player. Martin Jol referred to one of Carrick's qualities before the match, describing him as one of the four best players at making interceptions in the Premiership; interceptions, however, rarely make headlines.

Against former team-mates, however, his battling qualities had to come to the fore. Carrick's first contribution was to upend Jermaine Jenas and he was penalised twice within seven minutes.

Later, there was a no-holds barred challenge on Edgar Davids, renowned more for his fearless tackling. Less eye-catching, but of greater importance, was his presence in Robbie Keane's sphere of influence. Gradually, however, he had the opportunity to display that as Jol said, citing Johan Cruyff, he has an ability to think a step ahead and start a move. One pass from the centre circle released the overlapping Gary Neville down the right flank; with Paul Scholes suspended, there was no other United player with that vision.

Carrick's workload was increased, too, because he and John O'Shea were in direct competition with three Tottenham central midfielders for the first half, an unusually defensive move from Jol that made Mido an unlikely - and seemingly unhappy - left winger. One, somewhat harsh verdict, was that even Stewart Downing looked good in comparison during his midweek Macedonian mediocrity.

While one striker was uninspired on the left flank, Manchester United owed victory to a winger impressing in the centre of the attack. Ryan Giggs' second goal in as many games came after Paul Robinson unconvincingly pushed Cristiano Ronaldo's 40-yard free kick into his path. Giggs plunged forward to send a looping header over the England international and in, via the bar.

With greater conviction and better finishing, Tottenham would have taken a point. After reverting to a two-man strike force, both Mido and substitute Jermain Defoe failed to convert headers, the latter shouldering the ball off target. Edwin van der Sar, who had already made a fine double save from Michael Dawson and Didier Zokora, needed to tip Pascal Chimbonda's deflected cross over his bar.

Despite that, Sir Alex Ferguson insisted: 'In the second half, we kept good possession and we kept good composure to see the game out.' Martin Jol's verdict was more credible: 'I think we deserved something from this game. We had five or six possibilities, really good chances.'

But it is United with the 100 percent record and pole position in the Premiership. It suggested that timing may not be the forte of the five season ticket-holders who chanted 'Fergie out' by the club's training ground on Friday morning. The Scot's iron grip on the Old Trafford helm has not been challenged since the early weeks of 1990, and he has only won the 17 trophies since then.

Police were called to Carrington, though they didn't intervene. Nonetheless, it suggested the question of the succession may be as peaceful at United as at 10 Downing Street.

I think we deserved something from this game.
Martin Jol

After Ferguson's attack on the supporters behind breakaway club FC United this week, one fan had reached for an historical comparison, likening United's veteran manager to Marie-Antoinette. Decapitation hardly appears an option after - statistically, anyway - a perfect start to the season; nor, for that matter, is Sofia Coppola likely to make a film about the Glaswegian in the near future.

Perhaps he is not sufficiently attuned to the zeitgeist; maybe bloody-minded old-school managers don't fit into tales of disorientation in distant cities.

Whichever, the disquiet that seems related to a lack of transfer activity, and a failure to give Carrick more company in the arrivals lounge. The languid ease of his passing suggests he is, in that wonderfully vague phrase, a Manchester United player, but those who feel Ferguson paid over the odds for his playmaker are unlikely to be appeased just yet.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Giggs - In wonderful form right now, gliding across the turf and still with the instant acceleration to embarrass defenders a decade his junior.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Why do managers - all managers - blame so much on players' absence on international duty?

MAN UNITED VERDICT: Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo sparkled, and it was as well they did. For the first time this season, Louis Saha was profligate and looked an inadequate replacement for the departed Ruud van Nistelrooy while a lack of concentration, an accusation often levelled at Rio Ferdinand, seemed to bedevil the entire defence when crosses came in from the flanks.

Both Ferdinand and Wes Brown are capable of better and, unusually, the most convincing central defender was Mikael Silvestre in an injury-time cameo.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: They should have started with two players in attack for, when they committed to attack, they did enough to take a point. But with Lennon absent, a surfeit of central midfielders and a shortage of genuine wingers must be a concern. Davids, Zokora and Jenas brought various attributes to the midfield and ensured Spurs weren't outclassed, but all are happier in the centre.

INJURY NEWS: Aaron Lennon injured a cartilage in training, which will be assessed by Tottenham on Sunday. With Steed Malbranque out, it could deprive them of width in midfield for the next few weeks.


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