Manchester United’s midfield has been a contentious area for years, some put it down to Roy Keane’s departure in 2005 although some say it is only a problem that became apparent in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.
United have had some monumental midfielders and traditionally it has been an area where we have displayed our strength with the likes of Keane and Robson usually the first names to spring to mind when asked about the position.
Paul Ince, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and to a lesser extent even Juan Sebastian Veron are just some of the quality we have rolled out in the middle of the park so the derth of apparet talent now stands in stark contrast.
But this season Tom Cleverley came in and for a while things changed.
United were dynamic again, playing slick fast attacking football and whilst it left us a little exposed at the back nobody complained as we swept aside Arsenal 8-2 or as he set up goals in United’s 3-0 win over Tottenham.
It’s weird because people were happy to see him starting and but it was somewhat of a luxury, he wasn’t as heralded as perhaps he should have been due to our failure to snap up players like Sneijder or Ozil the season prior but the second he disappeared after being injured by Kevin Davies in the game at the Reebok Stadium it began to sink in just how important he was to the team.
United reverted to type with stagnant, static play in the middle of the park. Our performances suffered as the swashbuckling displays disappeared. By no means am I saying that he would have prevented us from losing 6-1 to Man City but he didn’t look too shabby against them last time out either.
Now this is where the argument starts.
There is no doubt this isn’t one of United’s best midfields, we are clearly missing components and some say that is why Cleverley seems so refreshing. It’s not that he is exceptionally good rather he fulfils a need of the team but others (and I myself too sit in this boat) believe that it is no coincidence that Cleverley has stepped into the team and makes us look better, it is because he is that good.
Over the summer we got to see Cleverley in comparison to other talents, against Barca he he faced Thiago and Iniesta and whilst it was a friendly he didn’t look out of his depth by any means and against a strong Man City midfield he did his reputation no harm either.
At just 22, for whatever reason you choose to subscribe to Cleverley has become integral to our midfield. The phrase ‘ticking over’ will have been used 100 times in reference to what he does but it is a suitable subscription. His short passing particularly seems to make everything less complicated and it is a quality that we missed in his absence where we seemed to make hard work of games we shouldn’t have.
I won’t go as far as saying Cleverley is (borrowing a phrase from Charles from The Busby Boys) the ‘midfield Jesus’ but he continues to show us how good he is as a player and how good he is for the team.
And I don’t think I’m the only person happy to see him back after that lengthy lay off and just hope this new setback is as minor as Sir Alex claims.