Pitchside Europe

Is time up for mediocre Cleverley?

The next few weeks promise to be decisive for Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley.

The arrival of Marouane Fellaini has ended the murmurs regarding who would be brought in to plug the hole in the middle of the pitch for David Moyes, but in turn it has also triggered debate as to how the former Everton boss will now construct his midfield.

The player who looks certain to drop out of the side to accommodate the Belgium international is Tom Cleverley. With United adopting the 4-2-3-1 set-up - consisting of two wingers, Wayne Rooney most likely to play just off Robin van Persie at the front and Michael Carrick occupying one of the pivots - it's hard to see which other United starter is in with a chance of being relegated to the bench.

To have any chance of retaining his spot, Cleverley is going to need some special performances in his next couple of outings. But for a player who doesn't seem to do much when he is given the opportunity, it would be a surprise to see him suddenly sparkle.

Cleverley complements Carrick in the sense that while the latter makes the ball do the work and is relaxed when it comes to his movement around the field, Cleverley is a snappy player who makes darting movements to close down opponents and roam the midfield areas.

He's also tidy in the pass - Cleverley topped the trio in terms of pass accuracy (90%) last season, but fell short in almost every other aspect (having played fewer games).

The former Wigan loanee lacks creativity and he struggles to spark attacks. Although he played less minutes than Fellaini or Carrick, Cleverley's number of key passes (17) still looks a bit flimsy next to the other two and his assist record looks questionable too.

While Carrick carries out his defensive work and floats passes around the pitch, exploiting the technical brilliance of his right foot, Cleverley is often just a passenger. His goalscoring tally last term suggests that he struggles in front of goal - just two goals compared to Fellaini's 11 - and his defensive contributions look non-existent. Carrick made a total of 159 defensive actions last term, Fellaini 109, but Cleverley made just 44 - whatever way you look at it, that's poor.

His shooting is also considerably feeble. Fellaini hit the target with 60% of his 65 shots, Carrick hit the target with half of his 12 but Cleverley mustered a 36% shot accuracy from his 14 pops at goal, five of which were from inside the area.

So, he can't shoot, he doesn't chip in with the dirty work and he offers almost nothing in front of goal. His place in the team has merely been a product of Moyes having a lack of options, although Shinji Kagawa seems to be inexplicably overlooked for a role in the midfield at the moment.

Another issue with Cleverley is that he offers little presence in the middle. A Fellaini-type player is willing to use his size to dictate play and drive through the opposition, akin to a warm knife through a knob of soft butter. Cleverley does not have the same attributes.

United host Crystal Palace on September 14 - their first fixture after the international games - and it could be Cleverley's last chance to shine, especially as they invite Bayer Levekusen to Old Trafford three days later in the Champions League and then travel down the road for their clash with Manchester City.

The true shape of Premier League sides are likely to become apparent over the next handful of games and Cleverley's mediocre start to the campaign isn't going to cut it.

From Squawka.com - team and player football stats