Long-serving Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley has a big season ahead of him, and with Louis van Gaal making the some-time England international his captain for the 3-2 friendly win over Roma, it looks increasingly likely to be at Old Trafford.
Cleverley, who arrived at United as an 11-year-old from Bradford at the turn of the last century, has lost favour with chunks of the Red Devils and Three Lions faithful, after a perceived poor season under former gaffer David Moyes.
However, Van Gaal clearly sees the 24-year-old in his plans after playing him in every game on the tour of the US, and a brief glance at Squawka.com’s stats from last term gives a clear indication as to why.
It’s fair to say that goalscoring isn’t the 13-cap midfielder’s thing – apart from an anomalous spell on loan at Watford five years ago, when he notched 11 times, Cleverley has not bagged more than four in a six-season senior career so far.
His assist stats last term don’t pay him any compliments either, with a goal against Aston Villa in the Premier League the only direct contribution Cleverley made to his side’s strike tally, although he did lay on 10 chances in 22 top-flight matches.
Where the adopted Yorkshireman’s value lies is in his passing, with an 89 per cent pass completion rate over an average of 17 metres coming in eerily similarly to Michael Carrick’s 88 per cent over 18 metres.
The pair’s ability to keep the ball moving far outstripped that of new United recruit Ander Herrera at Athletic Bilbao last season, as the Basque only hit his mark with four of every five passes over the same average distance as Cleverley.
Herrera has clearly been brought in to take the ball forward from midfield, after laying on five goals and scoring the same amount in La Liga last term.
The same could be assumed of widely reported Red Devils target Arturo Vidal, who directly contributed 16 goals to Juventus’ Scudetto-winning effort last term, but only completed 84 per cent of his passes over the same average distance.
Cleverley made more blocks and clearances in the Premier League in 2013/14 than Vidal managed in Serie A despite making ten less appearances, and averaged an extra defensive action per match than the Chilean.
In the 3-4-1-2 system Van Gaal is likely to employ, the 20-time English top-flight champions will need a Carrick or Cleverley-type to sit ahead of the furthest forward centre-half and win/advance the ball for Herrera to start attacks.
‘The Geordie Pirlo’ is eight years older than Cleverley and injured for the first couple of months of the campaign, while Darren Fletcher – who posted similar passing stats to his aforementioned teammates last term – has just turned 30 and missed much of the last three seasons due to illness.
These factors, particularly Carrick’s injury, have handed Cleverley an opportunity to grab a first-team place under Van Gaal, and if he becomes part of a winning team early on in the campaign, he’ll be fiendishly hard to drop.