Chosen ahead of Michael Carrick once again, Tom Cleverley partnered Anderson in the centre of midfield against Tottenham Hotspur last night. Now, for me, I thought that the midfield partnership of Anderson and Cleverley left United exposed against West Brom but they didn’t have the talent to penetrate the spaces left behind. I strongly felt that if Modric played this game, his creativity would utilise the spaces and cause United problems: as it happens, Modric never started the game so SAF made exactly the right call by sticking with these 2 in the middle. It seems a distant memory of 2008 that I felt our central midfielders added something to our attack but I have already seen enough in the first 2 fixtures of this season to make me think otherwise.
United, being at home, came out of the blocks all guns blazing and instantly put pressure on Tottenham. Tom Cleverley’s first piece of action came after Phil Jones burst through defence to start a counter and Tom tracked to the edge of the box, where he steered a peach of a shot towards the corner and if it wasn’t for an unbelievable save from Brad Friedel, Tom would have opened his official United goal account. A great shot nevertheless and nice to see that Tom has the confidence to bring shots into his game. As the first half continued, Tom was composed in possession and looked like he was starting to settle down nicely in his central role, bridging the gap between attack and defence smoothly and providing that link that was so invisible last season. One thing I have noticed is that Tom is not afraid to get shoulder-to-shoulder with another man, something that is going to help him greatly in such a physical league. Although he lost 80% of his possession duels, if we can get a central playmaker who can not only hold and distribute possession but bring a bite to the middle of the park, then we may well have found the missing link to this new look United puzzle. It is a part of his game that he can improve on that will allow him to gain much more time on the ball if he can hold off opponents at arms length.
If Tom’s first half performance was well taken, then his second half stint was absolutely fantastic. United were dominant in the first half but failed to take the lead after Brad Friedel proved too good to get past. One thing I noticed about Tom throughout the game was his positioning on the edge of the box in all of United’s attack, which means that whenever Cleverley is in the squad, we will have a predator waiting on the edge of the box. The times of Paul Scholes screamers are a distant memory and replacing them is nigh on impossible but just having someone waiting on the edge of the box makes such a difference. Michael Carrick always tended to hold back a little more and Anderson was regularly flustered when the ball dropped to him there in previous seasons and having that option in the attack should open up spaces in other places as the defence will be aware of the danger that a shot from the edge of the area possesses.
Then like a flash in the 60th minute, Tom Cleverley showed just what he can do. A slick passing move from United and a one-two with Smalling on the right wing allowed Cleverley to whip in a first time cross that was pin-point to Danny Welbeck who took no prisoners in a classy finish. Credit really has to go to Cleverley to have the confidence to take on a first time cross: you see him look up just before he powers it into the centre and his vision was only matched by his ability. It is impossible to not heap piles of praise onto Cleverley for his performances so far in the season, they really do bode well for the future.
United turned up the heat after the first goal sprung the team into action and a sublime team goal from Samba star Anderson as well a neat headed finish from Rooney gave United a much deserved 3-0 victory. Tom came off as a substitute for Ryan Giggs but his performance has earned him yet more stripes: an assist on the board and a composed performance that saw few mistakes from the young midfielder has no doubt improved his stock once more with SAF. With an impressive 88% passing success rate including that fantastic cross to Danny Welbeck, his ability is shining through. Interestingly, on deeper analysis, you discover that 14/34 passes that Tom made in the game went forward in comparison to just 4/34 that went backwards: many fans vindicate Michael Carrick for his backwards passing game, so to see such great forward movement from Tom is really promising. As I have always said, I still believe that the partnership of Carrick and Cleverley would bring the best out of each others games but the way that Anderson has started the season, Carrick finds his midfield spot under threat. Next weekend, United play host to Arsenal at Old Trafford: if there was ever a time to stick the nail in Arsenal’s coffin, it is next weekend. SAF will be faced with a selection dilemma considering the outstanding performances of Jones, Cleverley and Welbeck but a selection dilemma through too many choices is a lovely predicament for a manager to find himself in. Will Tom make it 3 out of 3 Premier League starts next weekend? From his performances thus far, I would argue it is warranted without question.