This morning’s news that Manchester United could be without Michael Carrick for the next six weeks was a huge blow for a side finally showing signs of being the champions they were crowned as last season.
The midfielder’s ongoing Achilles problem will see him definitely miss the next four weeks, with the very real possibility of him not pulling on a United shirt again until 2014.
Given Carrick’s outstanding form this season, fans may wonder how David Moyes will cope without an often unsung but vital component in United’s engine room.
They may well point to Phil Jones, who excelled against Arsenal in the defensive midfield position and has the potential to be a true great at Old Trafford…in a variety of roles.
Or they may suggest the time has come for Marouane Fellaini to justify his £27.5million price-tag, along with his own previously-voiced aspirations to play as a holding midfielder rather than a battering ram.
Or perhaps Tom Cleverley will be told to prove he is worthy of a regular starting birth after too many mediocre performances interspersed with some outstanding ones.
But there is another option – and it is not the evergreen Ryan Giggs or the conundrum that is Anderson.
It is Darren Fletcher: a man once regarded as essential to United and yet one who has been cruelly robbed of much of the last two seasons due to ulcerative colitis.
After returning to first-team training, the Scottish international has since made his return to competitive action in the reserves, most recently completing 90 minutes against Stoke City.
While Fletcher is not yet ready for a return to the Premier League, and his recovery will be taken slow, in two or three weeks Moyes may decide the time is right to give him a taste of the action he will have sorely missed.
Six weeks is a long time in football, and if Fletcher continues his recovery – as all United fans will hope he does – by the time Carrick returns he may have a new midfield partner, with the experience and the ability to help drive United through the busy festive period and beyond.
image: © apasciuto