The Ultimate Guide to Tom Cleverley and the Villa Midfield

Transfer Circus

It has been unusual for Aston Villa to receive much attention on transfer deadline day in recent years since the departure of Martin ‘last minute’ O’Neill.

This year, however, Tom Cleverley’s transfer tug-of-war had all the ingredients needed to become a great deadline day story. The messy affair involved a greedy agent, an about turn on the motorway, an argument over wages and a blow-up doll thrown into the mix.

It had seemed by 11pm on September 1st that the tragicomedy would end with egg on everyone’s faces and Cleverley kicking his heels in Manchester United’s reserve team for the rest of the season. Thankfully, for all parties concerned, the midfielder was announced on a season long loan move the following day after a late night scramble to get the deal over the line.

Villa manager Paul Lambert had desperately needed another central midfield body after Karim El Ahmadi and Gary Gardner (on loan) were permitted to leave the club and Cleverley desperately needed more football having found his career stalling at Manchester United. A marriage of convenience and desperation is not a good start, but the question now is, where will Cleverley fit in and how will Lambert accommodate the player in his central midfield?

Who? What? Why?

Perhaps we should begin with a more basic question. What type of player is Cleverley? The Manchester United player gave an interview to The Mirror in February where he said, “My job goes under the radar at times. I am not a player who’s going to beat three or four people and stick it in the top corner or go round tackling people like Roy Keane.”

The new boy’s assessment of his game is a little at odds with the player who emerged onto the scene in the season of 2010/11.

Cleverley was then a more dynamic player who showed desire to break through the lines and open up spaces for his team mates. Cleverley appeared to be exactly the type of player that Sir Alex Ferguson loved. Mobile, athletic with a competent technique and an ability to make the most of transitions as part of Manchester United’s lethal counter attacks which had helped United romp away with the league title almost every season.

[quote_center]A marriage of convenience and desperation is not a good start, but the question now is, where will Cleverley fit in.[/quote_center]

Cleverley’s ability to keep possession also once earned him a somewhat inappropriate comparison to Cesc Fabregas from Sir Alex.

Cleverley’s style of play has subsequently been modified following his initial forays into Premier League football. Partly due to the decline and dysfunctional nature of United’s central midfield, partly due to demands of managers like David Moyes who asked the player to play a more holding role and partly, it appears, due to a general lack of confidence on Cleverley’s part.

Sir Alex’s faith in Cleverley had seen the more skillful and enigmatic talent of Paul Pogba slip through United’s fingers due to a lack of playing time. This decision now looks disastrous in hindsight but Sir Alex must have seen something in the former Bradford academy player to have devoted so much time to nurturing and developing the player alongside the fading forces of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

Possession: Nine-tenths of the law

Cleverley further explained to The Mirror, “I watch Spanish football a lot. If they pass the ball sideways but keep possession, the fans clap them. Their attitude is that as long as you have got the ball, the other team can’t hurt you.”

It is true that Johan Cruyff often says that if you have the ball then an opponent has two problems. Firstly, they have to win the ball, and secondly they have to score. However possession for possession sake is pointless. There has to be enough quality and creativity in a team to hurt an opponent.

In an extract from Martí Perarnau’s new book ‘Herr Pep’, Guardiola is quoted as saying, “Possession of the ball is only a tool with which to organise yourself and cause disorganisation in your opponent. If there isn’t a sequence of 15 previous passes, a good transition between attack and defence is impossible. Impossible.” As Guardiola explains, possession needs a purpose.

Villa, under Lambert, have rarely developed successful attacking plays which have lasted 15 passes. Goals have generally come from counter attacks where players such as Weimann and Agbonlahor have benefited from rapid attacks.

Lambert informed Joe Cole, Phillipe Senderos and Tom Cleverley when they signed, that he wanted to play more football this season and Cleverley’s ability to retain possession would certainly help that, but would he contribute to making the team more effective?

More possession is welcome, but developing an end product is something that Cleverley clearly needs to improve, and the player’s midfield mentor Paul Scholes has previously urged Cleverley to step up.

“It’s time Tom kicked on,” said Scholes. “He does play a lot of games and he is a quality player. That is emphasised when he gets in the England squad. Now it’s time he went on to the next level at Manchester United.”

Or Villa, as the case may be.

(A Constructive United View of Cleverley)


In terms of productivity, last season Delph and Westwood scored 3 goals each and created 2 assists. Cleverley scored 1 goal and made 0 assists (from 22 appearances). In terms of key passes, Ashley Westwood averaged 1.8 key passes per game which is excellent considering that Xavi and Iniesta only averaged 1.5 and 1.6 key passes per game respectively, whilst Cleverley contributed 0.5 key passes and Delph 0.8.

Defensively, Delph made 2.9 tackles per game, Westwood 1.6 and Cleverley 2.2.

It is hard, when looking at these figures, to know in what respect Cleverley will be an improvement on Delph or Westwood aside from boasting a pass accuracy of 89.6% with Westwood slightly behind on 82.9% and Delph on 83.6%.

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  1. Good article, and I am pleased for Lambert he has such difficulties picking the team. Hope this turns out to be another deadline day masterstroke signing.

      • He also has shown talent and yes it does seem the Manure fans got to him. Actually saw a reasoned view point on a Man Utd blog to that effect. And Cleverley’s own Twitter comments said as much.

        Hoping the Villa crowd will be right behind Cleverley and show him the love needed for him to blossom, and then want to sign in Jan. That would show Martinez.

        Wishing for him to start, provide an assist, and score today against Rodgers team.

  2. Another well written article from the stubby quill of Ms O. I can’t see a certain Carlos Sanchez in the graphic above – but perhaps it is my eyesight. Or perhaps Mr Lambert will tinker with his 433 451 standard pattern – anybody with half an ounce of wit can see it is a dysfunctional system when playing at home.

    Weimann and Gabby have started well – but this form is long overdue and of uncertain longevity – when number 20 returns I expect to see a new Villa emerge – a Villa that presses higher and seeks to use possession better. Time will tell if I am right – but with the addition of Cleverly we are beginning to see a Premier class midfield being assembled rather than a rag tag assortment of cheap foreign players and promising hopefuls from lower leagues being ‘asked to do a job’.

    And when looking at Cleverly – I would disregard last season – no-one shone under Moyes – the season before – and as MOMS’ OM said, Cleverly turned the game against us under Ferguson and had season long stats to be very proud of indeed.

    Keep up the good work.

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