Proof! Criticism of Tom Cleverley's passing is flawed

Manchester United star Tom Cleverley has come in for a lot of stick since the defeat at Stoke, but is it fair? The stats would suggest not.

Criticism has been piled onto the shoulders of Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley following his performance against Stoke last weekend, but is the criticism justified?

The main criticism of Cleverley seems to be that he’s not a forward thinking, decisive enough midfield man, not the sort of midfielder who can move the ball forward quickly into the final attacking third.

However, his stats from the match and from this season across several passing areas suggest otherwise.

Forward Passes against Stoke

PlayerClubPosFwd PassAppsMins
Patrice Evra Man Utd DF 20 1 90
Michael Carrick Man Utd MF 19 1 90
Chris Smalling Man Utd DF 19 1 90
Tom Cleverley Man Utd MF 18 1 90
Wayne Rooney Man Utd FW 18 1 90
Ashley Young Man Utd MF 15 1 90
Juan Mata Man Utd MF 14 1 90

Only three players made more forward passes than Cleverley during the defeat at Stoke. Two of them were defenders and the other was his midfield partner Michael Carrick.

The defenders are explainable through the logic that they play the ball forwards once they pick possession up inside their final defensive third, but Cleverley was more productive in this respect against Stoke than Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and even Juan Mata.

Forward Passes this Season

PlayerClubPosFwd PassAppsMins
Michael Carrick Man Utd MF 375 16 1,333
Patrice Evra Man Utd DF 339 23 2,010
Jonny Evans Man Utd DF 319 16 1,316
David de Gea Man Utd GK 288 24 2,160
Tom Cleverley Man Utd MF 260 18 1,359

It’s a similar story with Cleverley passing the ball forward this season, with only four players ahead of him.

One of them is the goalkeeper David De Gea, who United fans should start to worry long and hard about should he start passing the ball backwards.

Accurate Passes this Season

PlayerClubPosAccurate PassAppsMins
Michael Carrick Man Utd MF 946 16 1,333
Tom Cleverley Man Utd MF 901 18 1,359
Wayne Rooney Man Utd FW 690 19 1,576
Jonny Evans Man Utd DF 682 16 1,316
Patrice Evra Man Utd DF 663 23 2,010
Luis Antonio Valencia Man Utd MF 660 20 1,503

Only Michael Carrick has completed more passes than Cleverley this season, which suggests that the under fire midfield man is one of the most effective at the club when it comes to protecting the ball.

Nemanja Matic, recently signed by Chelsea, was superb against City, and helped nullify Yaya Toure's impact in the middle.

Chelsea were of course aided by Fernandinho's absence, and Martin Demichelis being his replacement, but Matic's performance was one which stood out and was key in Chelsea pulling off a shock 1-0 win.

The Serbian completed a higher percentage of his passes than any other Chelsea player on the night (85 per cent), won four tackles and made two interceptions.

Alan Shearer summed it up on Match of the Day 2, stating: ">The £21m signing which could have solved Manchester United's problems

Cleverley is just over 200 accurate passes ahead of the next player on the list; Wayne Rooney and nearly 250 passes ahead of Antonio Valencia.

Forward Zonal Passes

PlayerClubPosTotal Fwd Zone PassAppsMins
Wayne Rooney Man Utd FW 747 19 1,576
Michael Carrick Man Utd MF 668 16 1,333
Luis Antonio Valencia Man Utd MF 657 20 1,503
Tom Cleverley Man Utd MF 617 18 1,359

Cleverley is also right in the mix when it comes to passes in the opponent’s final third, with Wayne Rooney, Carrick and Valencia the only players in front of him and he’s also made fewer appearances this season than Rooney and Valencia. Another example, which counters the argument that he doesn’t do enough in the final third to move the ball around and create chances.

image: © joncandy

Have something to tell us about this article?

Register for MANCHESTER UNITED team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch