Tracking Tom Cleverley: Athletic Bilbao (A)

by Sam Peoples

Cleverley lines up pre-match for the tie. Photo: Javier Soriano (AFP Photo)

Tom Cleverley set up on the right of a midfield three in the starting formation. Considering he has only played 360 of football prior to the match, it was a bold move from SAF. Bilbao’s incredible intensity and energy at Old Trafford made SAF adopt a different formation – packing the midfield in an attempt to try and stop Bilbao having so much freedom.

Tom was going to have to bring a box-to-box game tonight with high intensity if it was going to work against a Bilbao side that looked ready to bring the fireworks again.

United’s first real attack came in the 8th minute as Cleverley burst through the middle and after a neat one-two, Young just couldn’t get on the end of it. United needed that sort of drive from midfield otherwise Rooney and Giggs would be isolated.

Fast forward to the half hour mark and United looked completely flustered. We were being outplayed, outmanouvered and outclassed on what was our toughest away fixture in Europe since Barcelona in my opinion. It was showing.

Cleverley was hardly seeing the ball because it moved so quickly that he couldn’t instigate any sort of forward movement. United were struggling with the formation change brought in to try and quash the movement of Bilbao. We went into the break on the edge of the game being over, with an early goal in the second half the only remedy for our hopes of winning tonight.

When the game restarted it was much of the same. I think the decision to play Giggs tonight was poor considering how much running the front five were going to have to do and it left Cleverley isolated when he got the ball (not often). Welbeck would of been a better choice to give United more of a choice up front.

When Tom ran forward into space, he just ended up running into the opposition and losing possession. Even his normally ever reliable short passing game was letting him down. We were playing with our tail between our legs and it was showing. Everything he was doing was wrong and every pass was wayward. It was hard to watch really.

The second goal was the clincher.

It wasn’t really anything against Cleverley tonight, it was the team as a whole. Nobody played well. Nobody upped their game. We were simply outclassed from the first to the last whistle by a team full of hunger and desire for the trophy.

Wolves away on Sunday was always the most important fixture of the week with City playing Chelsea in the same gameweek. By taking Carrick off, SAF protected his appearance on Sunday but a full 90 minutes from Tom points towards a starting berth for Scholes.

What Tom needs is a run of games to bring his confidence back up. He was so influential at the start of the season and I can’t wait to see that again. So long as he can keep his fitness in the run-in period, he will get his chances to impress once again.

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