Just over a year ago at the end of March, Manchester United were comprehensively outplayed by Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side. After the match, United’s midfielders were heavily scrutinised, Yaya Toure bossed the game, running rings around Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in the centre of the park. Passes were often given away due to United’s persistence to pass from side to side or backwards. Carrick was criticised for never breaking out of his own half and Cleverley didn’t appear to have the ability to beat a man let alone create the space to score a goal.
What a difference a year makes, Michael Carrick has been one of Manchester United’s most influential players this season and Tom Cleverley has found his form under Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa, scoring 3 goals in his last 3 games.
How has this transformation occurred? Well, there are a number of reasons, under David Moyes United held such a deep line that it was impossible to counter attack. The Scot even opted to use Maroune Fellaini in a deeper role than he was used to at Everton to protect the defence. This tactic helped in terms of goals conceded but it was too conservative for a team who wanted to consolidate their position as league champions. United lacked an outlet, someone with real speed or passing ability to turn defence into attack. Everything was coming through the wing men and there was no one with any real confidence to break forward out of that central midfield area and pick a pass.
This year it’s been different United have had a new philosophy, and a new manager. The Red Devils now understand how to hold on to possession and gradually build an attack in phases. As the games have gone on Carrick has grown into his role, but he’s also had the ability to pick a pass and push further up the pitch. Something that appeared to have been restricted during his time playing under David Moyes.
Analysing the latest stats courtesy of Squakwa.com Carrick looks to have benefited from playing in a more attacking setup. His passes have been more accurate, up 2% on last year and his shot accuracy is up a massive 55%. In 2013/14 Carrick hit the target just 5 times in 29 matches, with over half of his shots going wide. This year he has faired much better with all of his shots at goal hitting the target. The Englishman has been phenomenal in possession with 2 assists and 6 key passes in the build up to some crucial United goals. Which ever way you look at it Michael Carrick has been irreplaceable for United this season and since his most recent injury it’s been all too clear how much United miss him.
Whilst Carrick has been forced to sit out the remaining games of the season. His former team-mate Cleverley appears to be enjoying himself over at Aston Villa. After a slow start to his loan spell Tim Sherwood appears to have injected some life into the Manchester United loanee, who is not only setting up goals but he’s scoring them. Of his 29 Premier League appearances for Villa this season, Cleverley has now scored 3 times in 3 consecutive league games and he’s also completed 26 key passes. Compare that to his stats for Manchester United in 2013/14 when he made 22 Premier League appearances and created just 10 chances for his team-mates, scoring just once, with 0 assists. A lot of hard work appears to have paid off for Cleverley and his positional play has come on leaps and bounds, he now finds himself further up the pitch, with the ability to make late runs into the box. The Englishman keeps finding himself in the right place at the right time and even his finishing has been top draw. So credit where credit is true Tom Cleverley is back from dead.
What a difference a year makes. It’s hard to put your finger on one reinvigorating factor that has helped both players, but I think I may have found one, confidence. Confidence built from playing attacking football.