Sports

Michael Carrick can shock Chelsea and add a glittering line to his CV

Michael Carrick will not give you a headline but his football team might.

14 months into his Middlesbrough mission and he faces his most significant night yet, a Stamford Bridge examination which could end up being the most notable addition to his embryonic managerial CV.

So far Carrick has done excellent work with Boro without being tempted to replicate his managerial mentor Jose Mourinho and sing from the rooftops about it. Perhaps he should.

In his first season he inherited a team in 21st place and turned around a moribund campaign before delivering a play-off finish. Consistency in the league is proving stubbornly difficult to find this time out – not helped by major injury problems that could rob him of first-leg star Isaiah Jones at Chelsea – but in the Carabao Cup they are edging closer towards history. 20 years on from winning the competition under Steve McClaren they are dreaming of replicating the feat under Carrick.

Those who have worked with the former Manchester United midfielder at the Riverside Stadium are convinced he is going to the top, possessing the human qualities to match his in-game intelligence and sharp coaching.

“He is definitely the real deal, they all love him,” one source told i. The diligence with which he undertook a close season rebuild, refusing to panic when early season results were worrying, also proved he has the stomach for a fight.

Carrick played down the idea this semi-final could be a “defining” moment for him but a statement win in front of a national audience would not send his managerial stock soaring. Beating Mauricio Pochettino’s inconsistent Blues, and becoming the first EFL side to make a final since Bradford City in 2013, would be just that.

The portents from the first leg are positive: he out-coached an out-of-sorts Pochettino and his team had the energy and fizz to roll over Chelsea. Replicate that in the second leg and even the unflustered Carrick might get carried away.

“Part of football is creating hopes and dreams and the passion and excitement, [those] dreams and the fairytale. I was exactly the same when I was purely a supporter and that is what it should be,” he said.

“It is very different when you are in it. You have to be concentrated and a bit more business-like.

“But that doesn’t take away the buzz and excitement and the passion to do well, it is just slightly different.

“But certainly the supporters should be dreaming and making the most of it and wanting to play the very best because that is the beauty of football.”

Hayden Hackney celebrates scoring against Chelsea (Photo: Getty)

This is a curious Boro team, one that has had to be reshaped in the wake of last season’s play-off defeat. Out went loan star Cameron Archer, Ryan Giles and top scorer Chuba Akpom – sold to Ajax after hitting an impasse over contract talks – and in came younger, “project” players like Emanuel Latte Lath, a striker signed from Atalanta, and Leeds United loanee forward Sam Greenwood.

The result of that has been a topsy-turvy, injury-plagued season typified by weekend frustration against the Championship’s bottom club Rotherham United. Boro remain stuck in mid-table traffic, three points shy of the top six but 11th in the table. They have the talent to challenge the Championship’s best but it hasn’t happened enough this season.

The Chelsea win was a tantalising glimpse of what Carrick is trying to pull together, high octane football that has the bedrock of hard work and defensive resilience. You suspect they will need the latter to prosper against Chelsea.

“We’re expecting the best version of Chelsea. We know what we’re walking into,” Carrick said.

You suspect Middlesbrough will win or lose the game in midfield, where Dan Barlaser and 21-year-old academy graduate Hayden Hackney excelled in the first leg. If they can do the same to Chelsea’s expensive engine room again, a Wembley date will be just reward. Carrick thinks they are good enough.

“In any profession you want to push yourself and see what the best looks like out there,” he said.

“For some of the boys it is the first time they have faced that level of player or team so for them to come through that and find out can you cope?

“What does it feel like? How good are they when you come up against them? The boys have coped with that fantastically well and felt like they belong there.

“Every game is different so just because we have had two good games against Villa and Chelsea doesn’t mean that we are there. That is not the case, but the sense of feeling about what is possible, we take a lot of strength from that.”

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