The European U21 Championship kicks off today for England and all United fans will be looking on keenly as we will get to feast our eyes on a lot of youth prospects that will be showcasing their talents and Tom Cleverley has the opportunity to show SAF that the replacement for the retired Paul Scholes could come from within. After a good performance against Norway, he got the chance to start against the tournament favourites Spain tonight. Take a look at the highlights from the game below.
A good off season for the youth of England might see Cleverley break into the first team next season after he impressed again on loan with Wigan. He has cited his thoughts about replacing Paul Scholes and looks to use the Championship to show SAF what he can really do.
“Paul Scholes’ boots are very big ones to fill. He’s been a winner and a great player. Any team is going to miss a player of that ability. But as always somebody has to step up. You hope that given the chance you can, along with everyone else, give something so he is not missed as much. I hope I can put my case forward and save the club some money.”
Over the course of the Championship I will profile the progress of Tom and keep an eye over our other interests in the tournament such as the our soon to be goalkeeper in David De Gea and to see the workings of a future potential centre-back partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in action. A successful youth career can do the world of good for the younger generation and with Manchester United having such a strong contingency in this England side, it could provide the beginnings of a fantastic 12 months for these young lads.
Group B fixture: Spain vs. England
Cleverley started the game in the right midfield of an England 4-4-2. He is a midfielder who can switch easily from side to side and also play in the middle of the park, somewhere he will have to be comfortable playing if he is going to emulate the movement of Paul Scholes when he was one of the world’s best attacking midfielders. For the first 15 minutes, England looked fluid when they were in possession but found it difficult to get the ball off Spain and after being undone by a corner, Cleverley found it difficult to get the ball at his feet. When he did, however, he looked composed with the ball and didn’t seem to be rushed at any point in possession. This is something that was always one of the most graceful aspects of Scholes’ game, his uncanny ability to retain the ball and Cleverley also showed his ability to track back as he made a couple of good interceptions inside England’s half. Let’s hope that if there is one aspect of Tom’s game that is different to Scholes’ that it be the success rate of his tackles.
Tom also took the responsibilities of the corners and a regular corner taker would be very welcome inside the starting XI of United. Giggs’ deliveries won’t be around for much longer, whilst Nani and Valencia always seem to struggle to get the ball over the first man and a couple of good corners from Tom showed good promise in that respect. In the first half, a great first time cross to Danny Rose at the back post showed his vision for quick passes even if Rose was offside and it looked almost like a carbon copy of Scholes’ chip to Ryan Giggs against Newcastle at the start of last season. A sign of good things to come? Let’s hope so.
For the last part of his game before he was substituted in the 80th minute, Tom moved back over to the wide left in more of an attacking midfielder position and he looked a lot more dangerous in possession. His best individual moment came with a lovely weighted through-ball that set Sturridge off on the gallop but he just couldn’t get back in front of his defender to finish off the chance. All in all, the performance was solid. I saw good movement from Cleverley across the pitch and was surprised that he was taken off but given the final result, all credit to Pearce. I thought Welbeck was going to get sent off after a silly lunge when he was already booked but he kept his calm and slotted home the equaliser to give England a hard-fought draw. Martin Tyler rightly pointed out that England’s best performer on the night was Chris Smalling as he combined stalwart defending with some energetic and successful forward runs, maybe Chris has been our defensive midfielder answer all along! All in all, Cleverley played well against arguably the toughest team in the competition but with Czech Republic also in England’s group having conceded only 4 goals in 10 games during qualification, there will be tough matches ahead as well. England’s next game is against Ukraine on Wednesday, who sit bottom of group B after losing out 2-1 to Czech Republic earlier in the day so I am looking forward to seeing what Tom can bring to the table then.