Does Fellaini’s arrival mark the end of the line for Cleverley?

The England international will have a fight on his hands to command a United first-team place after the big-money arrival of the giant Belgian.

Manchester United look likely to hand new signing Marouane Fellaini his debut today in their early kick-off clash with Crystal Palace. The giant Belgian enforcer has been added to the Premier League champions’ squad for a cool £27.5 million to give David Moyes more options in the centre of the park.

The casualty of Fellaini’s arrival could well be Tom Cleverley, who is fighting to get back to the form he showed at the start of the 2011-12 season after he returned from a loan spell at Wigan.

The 24-year-old has been unlucky with injuries since, and has not lived up to his massive expectation. A few solid performances at the start of this term were counteracted by a poor showing in United’s last game, a defeat to Liverpool, and he now faces a real challenge for a starting berth.

Cleverley was in the England squad for the important World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine, but lost his starting spot to the midfield trio of Wilshere, Lampard and Gerrard. For him to play an important role for club and country, he will have to overcome the challenge of the massive Belgian.

United have lacked creativity in their opening games this season, and although Fellaini is not the player to remedy this, his inclusion will allow for the addition of someone who can. With Michael Carrick naturally sitting in deep-lying positions and Fellaini the enforcer alongside him, it will allow Moyes to play a number 10 further forward with a creative reign and little defensive responsibilities.

To compensate for the lack of steel in the United midfield, Moyes has been playing Carrick, Cleverley and Ryan Giggs in the centre of the park, but the energy and presence that Fellaini offers means that two central midfielders will now suffice. Effectively, with Fellaini included as an enforcer, United will change from 4-3-2-1 to 4-2-3-1.

The introduction of Shinji Kagawa in the role behind Robin van Persie, or playing Danny Welbeck or Wayne Rooney there when fit, is now on the cards due to the reassurance that Fellaini gives in the boiler room.

As such, Cleverley not only has to prove to David Moyes, a massive fan of Fellaini, that he is a better option than the new man, but he has to prove that his inclusion warrants the Scot to alter his tactics elsewhere. A big task.

Cleverley has the ability to play regularly for Manchester United and England, but will find the going tough with Fellaini’s arrival. It is time to find out whether the 24-year-old can live up to his billing.

image: © eschipul

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