Tom Cleverley’s injury woes a huge blow for Manchester United
Ankle injury is a cruel blow for a player who had only just begun to stake his claim for a regular spot at Old Trafford
Tom Cleverley’s continued absence is a massive blow to Manchester United after the midfielder was ruled out until at least Christmas.
Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed the midfielder will need a prolonged period of recovery from an ankle problem picked up during United’s win at Everton in October.
And the injury is unfortunate timing for Cleverley, having just sealed a regular starting place in the United side and being called up to Fabio Capello’s England squads to face Bulgaria and Wales in September.
Cleverley returned to Old Trafford from a season-long loan at Wigan Athletic during the summer and has effortlessly slotted into Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, partially aided by Paul Scholes’ retirement.
While many touted Internazionale’s Wesley Sneijder as a potential replacement for Scholes, Ferguson was keen to hand his home-grown talent the chance to fill the midfield void – and Cleverley has seized his opportunity.
His performance in United’s pre-season friendly against Barcelona, a game the Premier League holders won 2-1, earned glowing reports from Ferguson, who insisted Cleverley was the man-of-the-match.
It was a clear indication from Ferguson that he was finally ready to blood Cleverley after sending the midfielder on loan deals to Leicester City, Watford and Wigan over the past three seasons.
Just over a month later the England Under-21 regular was thrust into the spotlight at Wembley when his manager asked him to help wrestle the Community Shield from Manchester City with United trailing 2-0 at half-time.
Cleverley, who replaced Michael Carrick, played a key role in Nani’s sublime first. A series of quick exchanges between Cleverley, Nani and Wayne Rooney carved open the City defence, allowing the Portugal international to deftly place the ball past Joe Hart.
Cleverley’s intelligence and awareness has stood out in his six league appearances this campaign – he seems to possess a telepathic understanding with Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
Unafraid to instinctively swap short passes with United’s attackers, he helps imitates the same passing triangles which Pep Guadiola’s BarÃ§a have trademarked as their own.
And while he is a long way from earning comparisons to Barcelona’s Xavi HernÃ¡ndez and Andrés Iniesta, he does possess similar qualities.
His distribution is simple but effective and always probing.
He can launch a quarter-back style pass to leave opposition defenders in disarray as Arsenal’s Karl Jenkinson can testify.
And Cleverley, who is already being hailed as the greatest product of the United system since the infamous ‘Class of 1992’, was instrumental against Arsenal as Ferguson’s side romped to a 8-2 victory.
An injury suffered during United’s 5-0 win at Bolton Wanderers in mid-September ruled him out of contention until United’s trip to Goodison Park.
And it is no coincidence United struggled during the spell without Cleverley, picking up eight out of a possible 15 points in the league, including a humiliating 6-1 home defeat by Manchester City.
On his return from injury against Everton, he highlighted his growing importance to the Red Devils as he controlled the momentum of the game, with his impeccable passing ensuring the visitors kept hold of possession and dampened a normally raucous Everton home crowd.
Once again, he was vital in United’s goal – his disguised pass found Welbeck and eventually led to Javier HernÃ¡ndez’s simple tap-in.
But an ankle problem forced him off mid-way through the second half.
It is a cruel blow for the 22-year-old, who had just began to lay the foundations for a regular spot in Ferguson’s side.
Carrick’s influence in midfield has dwindled in recent seasons, while Anderson’s form is too erratic to warrant a regular place in Ferguson’s starting line-up.
And although Darren Fletcher is consistent, his defensively-minded style of play desperately requires a more stylish and imaginative partner in United’s midfield.
With a hectic festive period just around the corner Ferguson will be desperate to see Cleverley return in time for United’s customary mid-season push for the title.