By Francesco Longo
Last season, Cleverley and Anderson started off the season in ferocious form. United played the game of you score three and we’ll score four. It was magnificent to watch and peaked in the 8-2 destruction of Arsenal. However, injuries sustained to both players at separate points kept them on the sidelines and the flourishing partnership was stifled almost as quickly as it blossomed.
They haven’t quite started this season in such blistering fashion but they haven’t played altogether badly. Against a more physical and tough Fulham midfield of Diarra and the ever impressive Dembele, they put in a good shift. You can see a lot about our midfield tactics against Fulham by looking at the chart below. Cleverley attempted 23 and completed 16 more passes than Anderson but you can see he is keeping the majority of his passes short in order to maintain ball retention.
People seem to cry out for possession play and then bemoan the short pass but it is a very effective technique for dragging defences out of position. With high-pressing defensive tactics very popular these days, we see teams closing down the ball carrier quickly so short and swift passing can be the best way to bypass it.
Cleverley helps counter this pressing tactic by acting as a hub for the ball, moving ahead of it and making himself available, thereby dragging the defence to himself. Due to his pace and spacial awareness, Cleverley is able to take a touch and pick out a pass, more often than not cutting the opposition open. This time on the ball gives Anderson the opportunity to move forward into the space created and receive the ball in a more advanced position.
Anderson is the aggressive passer, attempting the Hollywood ball far more often but the space he has comes in part from the partnership with Cleverley. He doesn’t have to worry as much about challenging the opposition because Cleverley is always there, creating space by drawing the defence. If Anderson is pressured he knows he has a constant outlet in Tom and he knows he’ll get the ball right back if he moves into space.
Carrick provides the same sort of service to Scholes as Cleverley is providing for Anderson, being a constant outlet to allow Scholes to move around in the space create by drawing off the defence. It is this partnership of holder and aggressor which is paramount in a successful central midfield partnership.
Over the season, I think we will see Carrick generally playing when Scholes starts and Cleverley being paired with Anderson. Although, as written earlier, the partnership of Carrick and Cleverley is one which could be extremely successful for United in the future. While many see Carrick and Scholes as our first choice midfielders, Cleverley and Anderson do offer an exciting alternative that has every chance of supplanting the veterans partnership.