Tom in action against Everton on Saturday. Photo: Michael Regan (Getty Images)
Tom Cleverley made a starting return to the Premier League this weekend at Everton after putting in a shift against Aldershot midweek in the Carling Cup. Any United fan who says that we haven’t sorely missed him is delusional as Cleverley and Anderson were the heartbeat to United’s stellar start to the season. To have two ball playing central midfielders breathed such confidence into a youthful and exuberant side that it overflowed with fluid, dynamic and at times breathtaking football. Since Davies assaulted Tom at the Reebok, we have seen a massive dip in form. On Saturday, for the first half at least, we saw a return to the style of football that we saw at the start of the season and Cleverley made a return from injury. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
He might be young and he might be inexperienced but Tom seems to bring a calm into the midfield that Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson have all struggled to do without Tom on the pitch. He completed 34 out of 40 passes, 85% completion, and linked the attack with defence effortlessly when he had the chance to bring the ball forward. When the starting lineup was announced without Young and Nani, it was obvious that the success of United at Goodison Park depended on the quality of play down the centre of the pitch. How important was he to United in the match? Compare the fact that Fletcher completed 40 out of 43 passes in 90 minutes of football with the fact that Cleverley completed 34 out of 40 in 57 minutes, and you realise just how much United used Tom as the outlet for bringing the ball forward. After he went off the pitch injured, United’s attacking prowess seemed to follow suit. We let Everton get back into the game and if it wasn’t for the impeccable positioning of David De Gea and the stalwart defending of our Serbian captain Nemanja Vidic, then United would have undoubtedly walked away from Goodison without our first win at the ground since 2007.
The performance in itself was exactly what United needed after the game that must not be named and it should hopefully be the springboard that will see us biting at the heels of City until we take back our throne they are keeping warm for us. For me, to see Tom Cleverley return to the manifold was such a massive boost but to see him limp off in the 57th minute was equally as disappointing. The good news is that SAF has confirmed that it was precautionary and Tom should be available for selection next weekend. We need that to be the case because nobody has filled the void of Scholes’ departure more so than Tom. The raw passion of Anderson, the extraordinary energy of Park Ji Sung, the careful calculations of Carrick, the ferocious football of Fletcher nor the evergreen Giggs have managed to fill the gaps that Paul Scholes‘ passing radar left behind because, put simply, none of them are similar in his style.
It is typical of SAF to find a replacement from within rather than buying from outside the walls of Manchester United and I think that if Tom Cleverley can now hold fitness until the end of the season, we will see Tom fulfill his potential that is so obvious for all to see. At 22, he is ready to be thrown into the gauntlet of Premier League football and he also has at least a decade of playing time ahead of him. He was the most impressive player, for me, in our incredible start to this season and if United are going to be making a consistent return to the attack, attack, attack football that we saw in August and September, then Tom is our centre-piece. Anderson is crying out for Tom to return and the fact that SAF put him in the starting XI on Saturday when Carrick and Anderson were both fit is a testament to the belief that he has in him.