Statistical Analysis: Is Tom Cleverley to blame for Manchester United’s poor form?

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Tom Cleverley came out this week and said that he feels that he is unfairly being made a scapegoat for Manchester United’s current woes. Many tweeters and bloggers laughed at this assertion, lambasting Cleverley as crap and not good enough for United. He may not be good enough for a side who wants to win the league, but how does he compare to his team-mates and is he the reason for United’s woes?

Statistical Analysis:

Defensive actions Tackles per game Passes per game Pass accuracy Chances created per game
Cleverley 3 2.2 56 90% 0.4
Carrick 6 1.9 70 87% 0.9
Fellaini 4 1.8 44 89% 0.1

Darren Fletcher has also been playing but two of his five appearances were from the bench so I’ve selected his direct rivals, Michael Carrick and Maruoane Fellaini for comparison. In this brief statistical overview we can see that Cleverley has at least performed better than Fellaini over the course of the season so far.

Fellaini has been poor since joining United and Cleverley has outperformed in terms of every statistic assessed here barring ‘defensive actions’ (clearances, blocks plus interceptions per game).Fellaini then, in a brief statistical comparison at least deserves some of the blame for United’s poor season (although his signing has been widely criticized).

Michael Carrick is the golden boy of United’s midfield, the definite starter if all players are fit. His statistics are possibly the best. He sees more of the ball than the other two players, creates more chances and also contributes more defensive actions. Anyone who has seen him play can testify to the fact that he is more adept than given credit for at plugging gaps and working off the ball for his side.

Why is Cleverley being singled out?

Tom Cleverley was once seen as a possible long term replacement for Paul Scholes and the next best thing for England. Unfortunately he was built up to high and has since seen his stock fall. He is however part of a team and squad that are underperforming and thus singling him out is not fair, nor does it capture the reality of the situation at United. His performances this season have not been good enough for a side that are Champions, but then, the majority of players at United have underperformed.

His performance against Stoke sort of epitomized his recent Manchester United fate. The side lost the game and Cleverley wasn’t particularly good. He made three defensive actions (his average) and won two tackles (again close to his average). His defensive contribution isn’t bad, without being outstanding. In this system when he partners Carrick he’s the player who is allowed to go forward and get closer to the front two. He isn’t doing enough in this regard having scored just once this season and created just eight chances in 18 games. In the Stoke game he just didn’t use the ball effectively enough (the comparisons to Scholes look ridiculous in this regard). Cleverley created just one chance in the game:

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His other passes were sideways or relatively basic passes. Cleverley is probably a better player than this and needs to find another level in the attacking part of the pitch. His pass accuracy is high but he is not playing enough penetrative, game-changing passes, nor is he scoring enough goals. At 24 years old he should be really coming into his own in this United side, but in truth he doesn’t look good enough for a side without United’s ambitions. He is not terrible and he is not to blame for United’s current problems, but he does symbolize the fact that there are too many players at United who are simply not playing at the required level for a club who want to win trophies.

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