Pitchside Europe

In defence of Tom Cleverley, Man Utd’s Mr Unpopular

Trawling the internet before, during and after Manchester United's trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday it became glaringly obvious that when it came to the Red Devils' midfield pairing, one player was far more popular than the other.

If you looked over Twitter or various forums on Sunday, you'd see many fans praising Phil Jones' performance while Tom Cleverley's was about as popular among United fans as a Liverpool win.

It seems Cleverley is quickly becoming persona non grata among many fans, who question exactly what it is he brings to United's midfield. Jones, on the other hand, appears to be enjoying a lot of respect at present.

Examining Sunday's game, Cleverley should consider himself rather unfortunate that he has attracted such criticism after a performance that actually compared well to his more popular team-mate.

One of the main criticisms of United's midfield has been its inability to keep possession, with Cleverley often being cited as one of the more wasteful members of the side. At White Hart Lane, Cleverley's passing stats actually put Jones's in the shade- just.

Both players did a decent job on Sunday of finding a red shirt, but it was the smaller of the England duo who was the more reliable.

Phil Jones Passes vs Spurs (86% Pass Accuracy)
This screenshot was taken from the Squawka Football App - Download it here

Tom Cleverley Passes vs Spurs (88% Accuracy)
This screenshot was taken from the Squawka Football App - Download it here

It's not just passing ability that United's midfield has been questioned over this season - it's also the lack of players with the ability to put in a tackle. Even Michael Carrick, their most reliable defensive midfielder, isn't renowned for sticking a foot in. In fact, he's more adept at reading the game before it gets to that.

Being a defender by trade, as you'd expect Jones is capable of getting stuck in. But contrary to popular belief on Sunday, Cleverley enjoyed a similar afternoon when it came to defensive duties.

In true Carrick fashion, when it came to intercepting Spurs' passes, both Jones and Cleverley again, were almost identical.

This screenshot was taken from the Squawka Football App - Download it here

This screenshot was taken from the Squawka Football App - Download it here

It's strange how despite the stats telling us differently, many fans consider Jones to have had the far better game on Sunday- even though United's number four got booked and now misses the Everton match, not to mention ducking out of a header that could've prevented Spurs' opener.

If we put aside some of our indifference towards Cleverley we may just realise that out of the pair of midfielders representing United on Sunday, there's very little to separate the two.

Cleverley can even take solace from the fact that while he may not receive the plaudits he deserves, as his heat map testifies, he did put in a shift and maybe it's time people started giving him a bit of credit.