After following the progress of Tom throughout the U21 European Championships, I have decided that I will continue it as a season long series that will hopefully track the rise of the young England midfielder in his first full season as a United player. The departure of Paul Scholes has left a void and with SAF openly stating that he is looking to the youth rather than bringing in new talent to replace Paul, Tom Cleverley is a name hot on everybody’s lips. A stellar second-half performance against City in the Community Shield earned him his stripes and starting place today and alongside Anderson, I don’t think I have seen a more attacking minded pairing in the centre of the park at United for a long time. Not having Carrick in the line-up means we might be a little bit loose at the back but with Vidic and Ferdinand both starting, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I am hoping that Anderson will hold back and allow Cleverley to roam about.
Tom played alongside Anderson and out of the 2 central midfielders, Cleverley played a more advanced role than the Brazilian and used it to showcase his capabilities. United came out of the blocks firing and for the first 10 minutes looked like a team possessed; quick, dynamic passing and movement created some early chances but little was taken. If you didn’t have a clue who Tom Cleverley was prior to this match then you wouldn’t have been able to tell that this was his Premier League debut for United because he looked all the part like he had done it before. Composure in possession was one of the evergreen characteristics of Paul Scholes and Cleverley looked ready to try and take his spot, always looking for the short balls to retain the ball. An amicable 55% success rate in possession duels against a strong and physical West Brom side also bode well for the future, as Tom will no doubt know how much midfielders are hounded from his time at Wigan but he is looking fit and ready to give his fair share of rough and tumble.
It isn’t as if Tom is a one-trick pony however which he showed as the game continued. A cracking piece of skill in the 21st minute saw him take the ball away from Long and Morrison as he picked the ball out of the air and drove through the middle of them, keeping his momentum going as he continued forward. Statistics show that Tom had 43 attacking passes in comparison to 20 defensive ones and that was something else I noticed about Tom today: his ability to bring momentum into the attack. I don’t think that Anderson was the ideal midfield partner for Tom because defensive duties had to be shared out a lot more but when he gets the chance to play alongside Michael Carrick, I think we will see the best of Tom because he will have the creative freedom to roam around and make the passes for himself. It wasn’t as if Tom was dampened by his position though, as on a few occasions he excellently intercepted and tackled West Brom and showed another side to his game.
For the majority of the second half Tom was a pawn in a game of chess, as the ball went to and fro each half with little to no penetration from either team. It wasn’t until a fortuitous deflection off Steven Reid that a goal was scored in the last 45 minutes but when United had the ball at their feet, we looked good in the middle. I thought Cleverley and Anderson were excellent in bringing the ball out of defence and starting the attack but the final third lacked the incisive passes that were needed to break West Brom down.
All in all, Tom made a more than competent Premier League debut for United today. In the game, Tom secured himself a 91% pass success rate completing 58/64 passes and looked all the part like an accomplished midfield player. The most important thing about today for Tom was the fact that he got 90 minutes under his belt; experience is an essential commodity for any aspiring young player and a 2-1 victory away from home, considering United’s dismal away form last season, will no doubt boost his confidence. Today, Tom played it safe and was right to do so; he didn’t try any blockbuster long ball passes or tippy tappy dribbling but I know he has got in his locker, so I can’t wait for him to get more game time so we can see the complete Cleverley package. He should be proud of what he did today and hope that it was enough to get into the next starting line-up and considering we play Arsenal and Tottenham both within a fortnight, the Premier League will get a lot tougher very quickly indeed.
Statistics provided by EPL Index