Ex-Manchester United teammates Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher look set to be reunited on Tuesday night when Aston Villa host West Bromwich Albion, in a midfield battle which could prove crucial towards deciding the Premier League clash.
Eight points separate 19th-placed Villa from their West Midlands rivals in 13th, with the latter enjoying a resurgent run of form since Tony Pulis replaced Alan Irvine at the helm, having kept five clean sheets in their past seven matches to help them edge clear of the relegation zone.
Villa, meanwhile, were slower to part with the beleaguered Paul Lambert, and it leaves new boss Tim Sherwood with just 11 top-flight matches to save them from the drop going into the mid-week match as a result.
A big factor in their dismal stretch of two wins in 23 league games has been the failure of the likes of Cleverley to perform up to expectations, with the United loanee coming on for considerable criticism from the claret and blue faithful in recent months.
That sentiment isn’t much different to how he was perceived at Old Trafford last season, and was also in stark contrast to how club favourite Fletcher was viewed prior to his January switch to the Hawthorns.
Nevertheless, ahead of the meeting at Villa Park, it’s interesting to note that the England international in fact betters his Scottish counterpart in several key areas so far this term, including key passes per minute, passing accuracy, tackles per minute, duels won per minute and duel success.
|Position||Team||Total Key Passes MINS||Passing Accuracy||Total Tackles MINS||Duels Won MINS||Duel Success||Interceptions MINS||Touches MINS||Dispossessed MINS||Appearances||Mins Played|
|Tom Cleverley||MF||Aston Villa / Man Utd||95.53||87%||30.76||17.79||53.13||95.53||1.38||90.75||22||1,815|
|Darren Fletcher||MF||West Brom / Man Utd||241.33||85%||65.82||26.81||47.37||45.25||1.31||103.43||15||724|
Cleverley is also dispossessed less frequently than Fletcher, although the Baggies skipper does manage more touches of the ball when on the pitch, while proving far superior when it comes to making interceptions.
The Villa man ins't guaranteed the start tomorrow night, with Sherwood having the option to recall Carlos Sanchez or switch back to a 4-4-2 formation, but an improved performance in the 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United should see him retain his spot.
Given his lack of goals or assists, it's perhaps no surprise that the claret and blues failed to exercise the £7.5 million option to retain his services permanently during the winter transfer window, but matches like the one tomorrow are those when the former United trainee has a chance to prove his doubters wrong.
Certainly, outperforming his former teammate would be a good way to go about silencing some of critics, but a reinvigorated Fletcher in a West Brom shirt should give the home side plenty of problems of their own with his leadership and work-rate.