After 11 years at the club, it’s fair to say Michael Carrick has been a wonderful servant to Manchester United.
However, the 36-year-old won’t – much to José Mourinho’s dismay – go on forever and the Portuguese will, eventually, have to think about replacing him. Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eric Dier has often been linked and could be that man.
Also thought to have drawn admiring glances from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, Dier has been identified by Mourinho as a potential replacement for Carrick at the base of the Red Devils’ midfield.
The Wallsend-born midfielder signed a new one-year contract at the end of last season and Mourinho made his feelings clear on the importance of the former Spurs man.
“It is very sad to know that time flies for every one of us,” he said. “He is such a fantastic player and it is a pity, I always loved him, but instead of being his manager when he was 25 I am his manager when he is 35.”
United signed Carrick from Spurs for £18million in 2006 and, if reports are to be believed, attempted to plunder the north Londoners in the summer to replace the former England international.
And with Mourinho a known fan, would Dier be a good replacement for Carrick?
As a converted centre-back, Dier has the defensive instincts to sit deep in midfield and protect the backline, something which has long been a requirement of Carrick’s role at Old Trafford.
The United veteran is still relied upon to add solidity and assuredness to the midfield whenever he starts. If Carrick is not in Mourinho’s line-up, it is often down to the fact that the manager doesn’t view the opposition as posing too much of a threat on that particular day. In the bigger matches against teams of equal or higher standing, however, the United pass-master remains crucial.
It is often the case that Carrick is deployed as the deepest central player within a midfield trio, with United shaping up in a 4-3-3 formation. In this role, he is the single pivot in front of the back four, staying behind the ball and conducting play.
This would be a role which Dier would have to adapt to, having spent most of his time as part of a double-pivot in the Spurs midfield, alongside the gifted and energetic Mousa Dembélé.
Playing in a two in this way means Dier is able to share the defensive burden with his partner and is relied upon less as a playmaker. Although the England international is a technically-sound passer of the ball, he cannot match Carrick in this regard.
Indeed, the United star completed 89 per cent of the passes he attempted in the Premier League last season, while the Spurs man had a pass accuracy of 86.7 per cent.
Furthermore, Carrick’s role as United’s chief conductor saw him attempt a whopping 70.7 passes per 90 minutes in league action – a figure which rose to 83.6 in the Europa League – compared to Dier’s 58.6.
Carrick’s ability to play incisive forward passes, rapidly turning defence into attack and making the opposition play facing their own goal, is evidenced by his 0.5 key passes per 90, with Dier’s average down at 0.4.
If Mourinho truly views Dier as the man to anchor his new-look midfield, then he will either be hoping the 23-year-old is able to adapt his game accordingly, or the Portuguese could perhaps be planning to adjust the duties he expects his deepest midfielder to carry out.
Dier is more of a Mourinho-style defensive midfielder
The teams Mourinho has built in the past have always tended to have a specialist destroyer at the base of midfield, rather than a deep-lying playmaker such as Carrick.
At Porto, he had Costinha; at Inter Milan, it was Esteban Cambiasso; Lassana Diarra was his defensive midfielder for Real Madrid; and over two spells at Chelsea, he used Claude Makélélé and Nemanja Matić in this role.
The fact that Mourinho has deployed Carrick to shield the back four and utilise his extraordinary passing range is somewhat of a departure from the way the former Chelsea boss tends to do business.
This could be purely down to the fact that the United side he took control of last summer did not contain the kind of defensive midfielder he is used too, so he had to adapt to starting Carrick, or, at times, Ander Herrera, in the position instead.
Matić has been used in a more withdrawn role since moving to Old Trafford in the summer, though he is not a like-for-like Carrick replacement. Additionally, at 29 years old he is not a particularly long-term option.
Snagging a specialist defensive midfielder is of high importance, and Mourinho may elect to sign the kind of player he has historically preferred in the role.
In this regard, the Red Devils’ interest in Dier makes much more sense.
The fact that he is a less gifted passer than Carrick wouldn’t matter so much because his job would be to guard the backline, break up play and hand possession over to the likes of Paul Pogba, Matic or Herrera.
Dier’s defensive contribution this season doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how he’d shape up at Old Trafford due to the amount of time he has spent in the back three.
But when looking at last season’s statistics we get a clear picture of how he measures up against Carrick.
In 2016/17, the Spurs player averaged more tackles per 90 minutes than Carrick (2.3 to 1), blocked more shots (0.5 to 0.4) but the United lynchpin came out on top for blocked passes (0.8 to 0.5).
If Mourinho is looking for a like-for-like replacement for Carrick, he may want to continue his search away from White Hart Lane.
If the United boss wants a midfield destroyer who can also contribute to his team’s build-up play, there are worse options than Dier.