Have United Been Suffering Without Tom Cleverley?

Unconvincing. Unimpressive. Shaky. Those have been some choice words used to describe Manchester United’s recent performances. Having seen evidence for it myself it would be very hard to disagree.

With such a blistering start to the season it seems United have hit a dry patch beginning with the 1-1 draw at the Britannia followed by a dismal Champions League performance conceding 3 goals at home to Basel after leading 2-0.

The performances have been cagey and uneasy for fans to watch. The Chelsea home game for starters. At 3-0 up United should have kicked on but allowed Chelsea back into the game after half-time and allowed them to have a host of clear cut chances.

The performances haven’t gone to another level since highlighting the static unenergetic midfield that has been suffering. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher have both been used partnering Anderson in the middle of the park to little joy. 

Ironically since Tom Cleverley’s injury from a mistimed Kevin Davies challenge against Bolton, United’s form performance wise has deteriorated and according to some sections of the United faithful his absence is the reason for this slump.

He has been touted as the new Paul Scholes ever since his return to Manchester United after impressing on loan spells at Leicester City, Watford and more recently Wigan Athletic but this season Cleverley has really come into his own.  Not much was expected of the young 22 year old with many still despairing the lack of a new central midfielder. Enter Cleverley. 

So for a United side that started the Premier League season with 5 wins out of 5 scoring 21 goals in the process where exactly did it all go wrong?

The consistency and a starting 11 that hand-picked itself most days certainly contributed to the booming start to the season that United had. Yet with injuries hampering team selection it certainly became a problem with Antonio Valencia starting games at right full back and more recently Phil Jones being put in a defensive midfield position for the trip to Anfield. The chopping and changing around certainly affects form and doesn’t give the team a foundation to build on game after game.

Cleverley’s performance in the Community Shield showed Ferguson what he was missing last season in central midfield; energy and a positive mind-set. When Cleverley receives the ball he is always looking to pass and move which is what made United such a handful in their first few games.

A front 4 of Nani, Ashley Young Rooney and Javier Hernandez is a handful for any defence and with Cleverley and Anderson’s partnership in central midfield threading passes through to them it made for a rough afternoon for most teams, Arsenal in particular.

The impact of Cleverley has been so fierce that he has propelled himself ahead of experienced stars such as Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs.  While Michael Carrick reads the game brilliantly and Darren Fletcher battles well in midfield Cleverley does offer a different dimension to the midfield.

Manchester United now go into the biggest Manchester derby in years in a somewhat indifferent form against an on fire Manchester City side not short of confidence. Now the fans expect Ferguson to throw in Cleverley to be the solution to the unconvincing displays which is somewhat naïve.

Cleverley enjoyed a fine start to the season with United but to expect him to come back into the side again to be firing on all cylinders and the answer to the lethargic midfield is a huge ask. He made a fierce impact in midfield but with Anderson struggling to regain form, Fletcher and Carrick slowly beginning to get back to their best and Ryan Giggs nearing 38 in a bit part role this season the pressure on young Cleverley’s shoulders is immense.

Eric Harrison, United’s former youth coach who helped bring in the ‘Class of ’92’ hasn’t helped ease Cleverley’s task stating:

‘’Tom is without question so good that he is the best young player at United since Scholes, Giggs and Beckham came onto the scene. He is so special because he is supremely fit 100 per cent committed and he is supremely talented. At the start when Tom played our passing tempo was so quick it was unbelievable. It was just like it has been in the past. I can’t wait to see Tom back because of those quick, short passes and little one-twos, plus his positional play is great’’

I wouldn’t expect Cleverley to come back as sharp as he was when he started off the season as we see some players take time to get back into the flow after a lengthy absence through injury. He has been hailed as the answer to all our midfield woes unfairly but thus far hasn’t put a foot wrong. It is too much to ask him to come back slot back into the team alongside Anderson and pick up where he left off. That’s hugely optimistic not to mention unrealistic.

Having him fit again is a huge bonus considering with Cleverley, United have won 5 games out of 5 as opposed to without him in which United have won 4 and drawn 4.  He is a fantastic footballer who is technically superb, versatile, has sharp and quick movement not to mention a great passer of the ball. He is certainly in the Scholes mould but I’d like to think he’s very much focused on being the first Tom Cleverley rather than the next Paul Scholes.

Darren Hickey @DHick92


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