Gary Neville says Manchester United are desperately missing the influential presence of Michael Carrick in the middle of the park and says the veteran midfielder's absence was particularly noticeable during yesterday's disappointing defeat at Everton.
Louis van Gaal's side were on the wrong side of a 3-0 scoreline at Goodison Park on Sunday, which meant the Red Devils have now suffered back-to-back losses in the Premier League for the first time this season after going down 1-0 against runaway leaders Chelsea last weekend.
Carrick limped out of the 4-2 derby victory against Manchester City on April 12 and has not been available for selection since, which has coincided with the club's recent downturn in form, although they were unlucky to be beaten by the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
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Neville suggests that it's no coincidence Manchester United have struggled more without the 33-year-old, pointing to his former team's significantly worse win ratio when he's not been playing as evidence, as well as the fact their poor start to the 2014/15 campaign also came about when the England international was sidelined with a muscle injury.
"When Michael Carrick doesn't play, their record without him shows he is missed," he is quoted saying by Sky Sports. "It is not just the control and composure, but it is his forward passes, he just moves the ball forward into good areas quickly.
"When United won the ball back [against Everton] they didn't get the ball forward quick enough. Michael Carrick does that. Even if it is only a 10-yard pass, he gets the move moving in the right way.
"They miss him badly, they really do. It is no coincidence they have lost the last two games without him."
The fact Van Gaal's side picked up just five points from their opening five games this term following defeats against Swansea and Leicester City and draws with Sunderland and Burnley meant that their title hopes were all but over by mid-September.
However, after putting together a good run of results the Red Devils got themselves back in contention for Champions League qualification, although they'll be looking precariously over their shoulders at Liverpool again following the two recent defeats.
With four games to play they remain seven points clear of Brendan Rodgers's top four challengers, who have an extra game in hand over their rivals as the race for entry into Europe's elite club competition begins to hot up.
Manchester United must still be regarded favourites to claim that all-important place with winnable games against West Brom, Crystal Palace and Hull City still to come. Their only really difficult challenge on paper is against Arsenal at Old Trafford on May 17.
Where do you think Louis van Gaal's side will finish this season? Could Michael Carrick's ongoing absence have any impact on the club's league position? Have your say below...
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