Michael Carrick feels Manchester United are starting to hit top form at just the right time.
After appearing to struggle for the first half of the campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson's men have suddenly clicked into gear. A Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City was followed by a memorable triumph at Arsenal and, last night in the San Siro, United made a clear statement of intent by completing their first away win in five attempts against AC Milan.
A tough trip to Everton is looming in the Premier League, when victory would take the Red Devils two points clear of title rivals Chelsea - for a short time at least. It is starting to look good for Ferguson and his players, with Carrick confirming confidence is rising.
'We are playing well at the moment and scoring a lot of goals,' said the England midfielder, who will miss the second leg against Milan in three weeks after being sent off in injury time last night for his second yellow card.
'Even after the bad start last night (Ronaldinho's early goal) we were still confident that we could get a grip of the game and control a lot of the play.
'We played some good stuff in the second half and could have scored more. We were the ones looking more likely to increase our lead towards the end.
'It didn't quite work out like that but we were reasonably pleased with the way it turned out.'
Simply the best: Wayne Rooney's form is 'phenomenal', says Carrick
Instead of United adding to their tally, it was AC Milan who struck late on. The Italians are clinging to the hope that Clarence Seedorf's late effort can set the scene for a memorable comeback at Old Trafford in three weeks' time.
Yet that would require a piece of history, given United have never lost by two goals at home in a European game and only twice were beaten by the 3-2 scoreline that would take the tie into extra-time.
'You would probably say we are favourites to go through but we know how important the start of the next game is,' said Carrick. 'If we can get the next goal we will be in a great position but as things stand at the moment it's still in the balance.
'We have got to make sure we perform again at Old Trafford.'
Sour note: The referee shows a red card to Carrick on Tuesday night
The key, not just for United but England as well, is Wayne Rooney. There is little doubt now that Rooney is starting to be bracketed with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka as one of the world's best players.
The Merseysider took his goal tally for the season to 25 with a couple of well-taken second-half headers last night and Carrick does not argue with Ferguson's opinion that AC Milan's veteran defenders just could not handle the 24-year-old.
'Wayne was brilliant,' said Carrick. 'He was causing all sorts of trouble for their back four. Being up there on his own is not easy. But of late he has been phenomenal.
'I would say now he is amongst the best players in the world and he seems to be getting better and better. Players like him have the ability to really influence big games. He is scoring goals now as well as setting them up. His overall play is phenomenal.'
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