Manchester United’s perfect partnership

by Tom Newbold

There’s something about the combination of Anderson and Tom Cleverley in midfield that just seems to work. So far this season they have started three games together, all wins for United. Perhaps the most abiding memory (so far) of the two playing together is that devastating partnership they formed at the beginning of last season, where they helped the Reds to dismantle all before them. But why do they work so well together?

The defining factor in their compatibility is probably their passing styles. Take the passes made by each player in the match against Fulham early this season. Anderson’s passing tends to be expansive, switching the play from side to side in order to stretch the opposition. Cleverley’s passing on the other hand appears to be short, knitting the play together with neat and incisive passes.

Anderson and Cleverley’s passing statistics vs Fulham in the 3-2 win at Old Trafford this year

These passing styles work alongside each other to great effect. If both players were to continually play expansive passes then a direct creative threat through the middle would be lacking. If both players were to only play short, neat passes, then the width of the pitch wouldn’t be utilised to full effect. The combination of both styles provides the perfect stage for United to attack with.

There would also appear to be a benefit for Shinji Kagawa in playing these two midfielders behind him. Whilst Anderson helps the transition in play to the wings, Cleverley is vital in assisting Kagawa to play to his best through the middle. Cleverley’s direct incisiveness helps to get Kagawa on the ball in threatening positions behind the striker. When United play with two expansive midfielders then Kagawa is likely to get lost in a lonely role behind the striker. The game against Fulham in August is an example of how well the Cleverley-Kagawa link-up worked as Anderson fed the ball to the wingers to create a multi-dimensional threat.

Of course, Anderson and Cleverley are not the perfect defensive partnership. An exciting aspect to their play is the dynamism and energy they both bring to the team. With this, however, comes a defensive deficiency. Perhaps it is youthful naivety, or simply the cost of having such forward-minded players but there is too often a large gap between themselves and the defence, leaving room for the opposition. In order to get the best of Anderson and Cleverley, it would seem appropriate to having a sitting midfielder behind them to help protect the team from opposition breaks.

Whenever Anderson and Tom Cleverley start a game together you can guarantee excitement. In the diamond formation they create the perfect platform for the creative midfielder to play in front of them, whilst being protected by the deep-lying midfielder. In a set-up with width they offer the opportunity for expansive wide-play, and exciting central transitions.

The two players must avoid the injuries that have so far plagued their short careers to have the positive long-term impact they could at United. What we have seen of them so far, however, is nothing short of mouth-watering. Their compatibility in midfield is a blessing to the team, and works delightfully. Let’s hope they can fulfil their potential, and become the pivotal cog that inspires United to great things.


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