The Curious Case of Tom Cleverley

October 21, 2013 in Premier League by Ballsy Banter

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Roll back a couple of years. Tom Cleverley returns from a loan spell at Wigan, where he received several rave reviews and praise from several managers. Some Manchester United fans were excited - those that follow the youth team mostly, but most didn’t know too much about the young midfielder. Then came the friendly in July against Barcelona, and everything changed for the lad. A solid performance earned him comparisons to the genius that is Paul Scholes; well-earned, if I may add. The winner, scored by Owen, was the result of Cleverley pressing and winning the ball from one of Barca’s centre-backs and putting Owen through on goal. If that wasn’t enough reason for the press to hype up “the next best English midfielder”, the Community Shield surely fuelled the fire.

CleverleyNani

Who can forget that one-touch footy, with Rooney, Nani and Cleverley linking up for the second goal? It was a thing of beauty, but it may also have contributed to the extra hype, and of course pressure, surrounding a young Tom Cleverley.

This season, however, Cleverley looks a completely different player. Fans and neutrals alike make joke after joke about the player, yet personally I haven’t seen anyone actually look at the player in detail. His transition to a deeper midfield role has been ignored, be it through ignorance or something else, and he is being judged on what people expected of him – not on what role he has to fulfil now. Once likened to, and tipped to be “the next” Paul Scholes, Cleverley is starting to look more and more like Michael Carrick.

Soccer - FA Community Shield - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium

In the game versus Chelsea this season, Cleverley managed 77 passes, 7 more than Carrick; albeit with one less key pass. Not only was his passing accuracy a mere 4% more than his midfield partner, he played one long ball less. In the Liverpool game, the players’ stats were almost identical, almost scarily so. 63 to 68 passes, 81% passing accuracy to 82%, both attempted 10 long balls with Carrick landing only one more. In the Manchester derby game, however, one starts to see what Cleverley brings to the field. After coming on in the 51st min, he managed 55 passes with a 95% accuracy, with only Fellaini and Carrick managing more; they played the whole game. He successfully attempted 5 long balls, and as a personal note he made United’s play more fluent.

Cleverley is not the player everyone thought he’d turn out to be. He is not a no. 10, but lies deep where he receives and redistributes possession, brakes up opposition attacks with strong pressing, tackles and interceptions. He is very similar to Carrick, almost eerily so, with the only difference being Carrick’s containing defence to Cleverley’s pressing game. But is he the player Manchester United need? Well, yes and no. It all depends on the decisions David Moyes makes in the coming weeks, with his tactics coming under heavy scrutiny. Also, as pointed out by Gary Neville, Cleverley is the only midfielder on the books (bar Fletcher) that presses aggressively; Carrick and Fellaini would much rather just lie deep, waiting for opposition to make the first move.

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I firmly believe that TC23 has the potential to be a Manchester United player; people should just give him time. Whether he’ll be afforded the necessary time is another question, with the situation at the club as frail as it is. Should Moyes maybe alter his tactics and/or the system he employs, and will such a move be a good thing for Tom? I believe so, but I guess only time will tell.

 

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