After a disappointing derby loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford last week, Manchester United rebounded with a 2-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, before drawing 2-2 with West Ham on Wednesday.

Despite holding a comfortable lead at the top of the table, it was imperative that United suffered no more major setbacks on their way to a 20th league title, to try and wrap this one up at the earliest possible date. And they got the three points that they were looking for against a Stoke side that looked average, courtesy of a goal apiece from Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie.

In a way, it was fitting that the goals came from these two United players. With regards to Van Persie, there isn't much left to say other than what has already been said. His spectacular form in the early part of the campaign meant that United got out of the blocks quicker than anyone else and managed to put enough distance between themselves and the chasing pack.

The goals may have dried up for the Dutchman in the past month and a half, but it has come with the league title pretty much in the cabinet and hence has not hurt them much in the league. You could argue, perhaps, that a Champions League quarter-final berth and an FA Cup semi-final spot went up in smoke along with his form.

However, discounting all of that, Van Persie still has been the player who has had the highest impact this season - and he is favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year award. Twenty-one goals in the Premier League, the latest being his tap-in at Upton Park, along with eight assists implying that he has contributed to 29 goals for United.

Of those 21 goals, 12 of them have come away from home. It is little doubt that United are the best away team of the season with 39 points to their name from 17 games. City and Tottenham Hotspur are a distant second with 29 points having played the same number of games.

"He nearly killed me! He forgets I'm 71. It was a great celebration as it brought the emotion of the players and the fans together. We really did celebrate that," remarked Sir Alex Ferguson after Van Persie ran to the touchline to embrace Ferguson having scored from the spot against Stoke.

Another area where the Dutchman's contribution has been significant is from set-pieces. Twenty goals have been scored from set-pieces this season by Ferguson's team, and Van Persie's quality of delivery goes a long way in explaining that stat.

Of course, all the factual evidence apart, his arrival from Arsenal just gave the team a huge lift and had a domino effect on the other players' performances, much like Eric Cantona did a few decades ago.

One of those players has been Michael Carrick.

Carrick is a consummate professional, a player who goes about his work with minimal fuss. Calmness personified, his passing ability and interceptions carry an air of languid elegance about them. He is a player who is much appreciated by the manager and his fellow colleagues, but maligned by the fans.

His role in the centre of that midfield has been vital for United. Much criticised over the past two seasons for being slow on the ball and not doing anything much with the football beyond passing it sideways, the resurgence of Carrick this season has been a shot in the arm for Ferguson.

The stats will show four assists and one goal to his credit, but what the stats will not show is the impact of his forward passing this season.

Carrick averages 75 passes a game with an exceptional pass completion rate of 88%. Amongst peers who play in his position, there is none better in the league: Santi Cazorla averages 65 passes per game with an 87% accuracy, while Steven Gerrard also sees less of the ball, averaging 66 passes per game at 85% accuracy.

Across Europe, Bastian Schweinsteiger's influence for Bayern Munich is at a comparable level with an average of 72 passes a game at 87% accuracy.

Carrick, though, is bettered by only one individual - and this should come as no surprise. Xavi, who on average makes 98 passes per game with a pass completion rate of 95%.

The other major feature of Carrick's play this season has been his quick release of the ball forward to the likes of Van Persie and Rooney, where in previous seasons he has been guilty of holding on to the ball for too long.

A grand reason for that has been the presence of Van Persie: an out-and-out goalscorer, someone of the type not seen in recent United teams since the departure of one Cristiano Ronaldo.

In fact, Carrick had two magnificent seasons for United after his switch from Tottenham in the summer of 2006. He had Paul Scholes for company back then and the two forged a formidable partnership. He suffered a dip in form from the 2009 season onwards, which sort of coincides with the period that saw the departure of plenty of attacking talent from United in the form of Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

Ferguson has also been wise to note that Carrick's productivity goes up markedly when partnered with a young and energetic midfield partner who can provide the legs; that's where Tom Cleverley and Anderson have played an important role this season. Cleverley and Anderson have allowed Carrick to operate from a little deeper and also offer him some protection when he is on the ball.

The 2012/13 campaign has seen Manchester United return to the top of pile in the English Premier League, a return driven by two veteran players. Van Persie's power-packed attacking fuelled by the steady and enduring supply from the midfield led by Carrick have helped overcome the pain of losing the title last season on goal difference.

But, another top goal-score to tide over lean patches for the Dutchman and a combative midfielder to assist Carrick are necessary if United are to replicate their success in Europe.

Van Persie donned the No. 20 jersey, mentioning that he intended to deliver a 20th league crown to Old Trafford, and he's delivered on that promise.

Along with Michael Carrick, the two of them have been the twin sparks in United's engine that has put the Red Devils on course to reclaiming the title from rivals City.

 

DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeFootball Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeFootball.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeFootball.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

 

Topics:
#Robin Van Persie
#Michael Carrick
#Manchester United
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