Early Doors

Tactics Bored: Why Cleverley’s an all-time great but not YET the greatest

Cleverley's woefully misplaced pass against Aston Villa

As Andre Villas-Boas receives the P45 of doom, and 2013 looks to follow him out the door, to bring in the shining light of Harry Redknapp and 2014 respectively, it should not be forgotten that a great many important findings have been made in the world of tactics and analysis - or T & A, as the insiders call it - this weekend. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck let down Manchester United, Tottenham were too defensive, and Costel Pantilimon’s heatmap was an indictment of his goalkeeping struggles.

Additionally, there is analysis of Villas-Boas’ face to make sure that his brand of crouching manager, hidden humanity is gone, but not forgotten.


Tom Cleverley played the match on Sunday as if he was challenging to finally be accepted into that group of excellence, made up of the greatest midfielders in the world. Players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Scholes are obviously going to be left in the dust by a man like Cleverley. For one, he completed 94% of his passes on Sunday, a figure that could stun the man on the street, who can’t even complete 94% of their steps successfully.

There’s a problem, though, one that suggests that there is actually a slight chance he might not make it to be considered one of the finest midfielders of this new generation. Obviously, yes, this is almost impossible to conceive. The problem is that when it came down to it, just before the third goal for United, Cleverley had the chance to set up his team mates. He could have pulled the ball across for a striker to score, or he could have given the ball wide to allow someone to cross. Instead, he effected a weak pass forwards to nobody.

His decision making will have to improve.

Similarly, Danny Welbeck will have to look back on this game and reflect upon how he let down Manchester United throughout. Yes, he scored the winning goal, and yes, he scored the goal to put United 2-0 and the game beyond Villa by crushing their morale, but his pass completion statistics were a disgrace. At 79%, you have to ask whether or not his two goals were suitable compensation. A move away in the winter for Welbeck would probably do David Moyes’ title hopes a power of good.


Spurs may have lost 5-0 to Liverpool, which suggests that they were not defensive enough. The theory goes that, tactically speaking, if you defend better then you will concede fewer goals and - keep up - if you are bad at defending then you will concede more goals.

However, that kind of analysis are for the incompetents who staff the majority of paid positions, who value so-called words and talent over hardcore statistical analysis. Those in the know will point out that Spurs were in fact too defensive. They were so defensive that you can have a look at the number of shots here:

And realise that they were so defensive that they did not have a single shot. Now, if you score no goals from no shots, the shot conversion ratio is zero by zero. Tactically speaking, if you divide zero by zero the result is not zero, it is indeterminate, there is no way of knowing what the result is. A lot like the result from giving a squirrel a gun. See here:


Manchester City may have scored six against Arsenal, but they also conceded three. Now, part of that is because Martin Demichelis is one of the worst footballers to have ever been a professional, and partly because Arsenal still pose an attacking threat despite going through their annual winter meltdown. But it’s also because Costel Pantilimon is an able deputy goalkeeper, but little else. It might be time to bring Joe Hart back.

Pantilimon might be over seven hundred feet tall, but he is unable to influence the game as you might hope. His concentration levels clearly suffer, and he is not as agile as a smaller goalie might be. The most criminal thing, though, is the lack of distance he travels throughout a match. His heatmaps are nothing short of a disgrace. While most players will cover between 10 and 13 kilometres in a match, Pantilimon is shamelessly static. Look on:

If Joe Hart gets a chance in the rest of the season, he should make sure to cover far more ground, perhaps with some more runs out of his goal to close down advancing attackers? Yes, he’ll concede more goals, but he’ll have made his heatmap bigger, and that’s the main thing, these days.


Villas-Boas struggled to get on board with the personal nature of football management. He obviously was passionate about tactics, but his mistreatment of Hugo Lloris suggested there were problems. When there were bigger problems with the fans, he elected to criticise them rather than address bigger problems. He probably made the right choice in having a go at Neil Ashton, because that’s always the right thing to do, but the analysis of his face draws a crucial conclusion - he could never get his beard to look the right colour.

In his next job, he’ll have to sort that out or the problems will remain.

Alexander Netherton (@lxndrnthrtn)