Yesterday, young Tom Cleverley was given a real treat – the England number ten shirt, along with the role of a traditional number ten on the field in England’s World Cup qualifying game away to Moldova. Ultimately it seems Cleverley will be a central midfielder for club and country but his vision, short passing and quick decision making is also well suited to playing in a creative role as an attacking midfielder. Considering Cleverley has had very limited playing time with the England first team it’s great to see he was able to show real chemistry with his teammates.
England supporters are used to seeing Wayne Rooney in the ten shirt and playing behind the lead striker, and there’s no doubt that he plays that role much more as a striker than as a midfielder. Though Cleverley doesn’t carry anything like the goal scoring threat of Rooney, his determination to support the midfield combined with his quick thinking and passing style meant it was very hard to get the ball from England. Possession is the name of the game in football these days and today we saw how a steadily built attack with the right players can tear a team apart.
Moldova may have had little chance from the start, but using Cleverley behind the main striker meant that the midfield were able to dominate the game unlike a typical England attack where long passing is the bread and butter. The fourth England goal was a perfect example of this sort of unselfish football as Cleverley, Walcott, Welbeck and Milner combined in the box for the sort of goal Brazil would be proud of. The attack moved forward methodically but relentlessly and the starting 11 looked like they were on the same page from the first minute. And it can’t be overstated that one of the main strengths of possession football is that the other team can’t score when they don’t have the ball.
It was very surprising, however, to see Roy Hodgson starting the game with Gerrard and Lampard in central midfield. This combination has failed to make the promised impact at international level for years, a decade even, and famously contributed to Paul Scholes being pushed wide left for England and eventually into early international retirement. It worked against Moldova but surely against a better team Cleverley’s ability to keep possession and shift play to the defences weak point will be needed in the centre of the pitch. It would be tragic if another talented United central midfielder had his international career stalled by the central pairing of Gerrard and Lampard.
England still have a long way to go to World Cup 2014, but it was a very encouraging display and Cleverley was an integral part of creating the sort of space and possession in midfield that has been so desperately lacking from England. With so many talented attacking players the team needs someone who can orchestrate that play in the unselfish way Tom plays football. Especially when England dominate possession in another team’s half, it’s essential to have someone who is extremely comfortable passing in tight spaces with the speed that is necessary to weave through a team putting ten players behind the ball.