Is Michael Carrick England’s Pirlo?

The inaugural post on Hilltop Analytics introduced my one-page player snapshots. Now let’s put them to use in anger.

There was a flurry of articles last month around the theme of, “Is Michael Carrick England’s Pirlo?”

Searching Google for [carrick “england’s pirlo”] turns up 1130 hits, including a recent piece from the Telegraph.

The Telegraph’s sub-headline makes a bold claim…

Andrea Pirlo is heralded as a mythical figure which England simply do not possess, but Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick is that man

If a one-page snapshot’s any good then it should certainly be able to help with this question. How similar are these two players?

First, here’s Andrea Pirlo in 2014/15 (note that he’s been out injured for a couple of months, but metrics in the report are expressed as ‘per 90’ minutes on the pitch.)

Pirlo 2015-02-20


The man’s a living legend. Huge involvement in the game – measured by number of passes per 90 – a phenomenal pass completion rate and major attacking creativity. He’s a goal threat, is almost never tackled and even chips in with solidly average midfield defensive numbers, to back up all of that passing.

How does Carrick compare?

On a few key measures, Carrick actually compares rather well. Like Pirlo, Carrick is heavily involved in the game, playing plenty of passes per 90 with very high accuracy. Like Pirlo, few opponents will land a tackle on him.

Carrick 2015-04-04


After that though, the comparison starts to break down. Carrick shoots rarely and by my report’s 10 shot filter, doesn’t actually get rated on shooting accuracy and goal conversion rates at all, because the numbers would be unstable (I.e. if you shoot just once and score, you’ve got 100% accuracy and shot conversion. That’s not useful to see and is potentially misleading.)

Carrick isn’t in the top quintile for any of the three statistics of advancing the ball into attacking areas, into the opposition penalty area, or assists. He’s not bad at these things, but he’s not on an elite level either.

His defensive numbers are also a little lower than Pirlo’s. Carrick is below average for tackles and blocks, rather than average, though he does score in the second quintile for interceptions.

Is Michael Carrick England’s Pirlo? No, he’s not.

He can do one of the jobs that Pirlo does and he can do it to a similarly very high level – keeping possession and moving the ball. Carrick is a very safe pair of hands.

However, Pirlo is on another level because he combines that efficient passing and high involvement in the game, with destructive chance creation and shooting.

I like Carrick for England. I think he settles the team down, helps to keep its shape and England look a far more composed outfit when he’s on the pitch. But he’s not Andrea Pirlo.

With Carrick in midfield, your chance creation has to come from somewhere else. He’s an ingredient, to combine with others in building a good team. Whereas Andrea Pirlo is the main course, all on his own.