Tom Cleverley: What He Does Tactically for Manchester United
But it should be noted that Carrick's superb play is half the act. Tom Cleverley, Manchester United's rapidly rising star, is the other half.
Here, we'll break down exactly what Cleverley does in United's midfield.
Sir Alex Ferguson uses a double pivot in holding midfield whatever formation he chooses. Whether it's a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, the midfield will always be anchored by two No. 6s; the strongest combination of which is Carrick and Cleverley.
Against Liverpool, the two played a near perfect game defensively. Their understanding is superb and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso given their positional excellence.
Here they are off the ball, staying within 15 yards of each in a horizontal line across the pitch: Think Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Out of possession they are disciplined, refusing to be drawn into challenges and looking to anticipate any rogue passes or movement. They form an important layer of protection for Rio Ferdinand Nemanja Vidic, allowin the centre-backs to slide outward and help their full-backs when the wide areas are overloaded.
When United win the ball, Cleverley floods forward to provide presence in the midfield space. He breaks from a deep position at speed, either penetrating space or dragging markers with him to give his full-backs time on the ball.
With a second striker in the form of Danny Welbeck or Wayne Rooney in place, his surging isn't so important, but when Fergie opts for a straight 4-4-2, it's very important he stretches the pitch vertically.
Gone is the disciplined line he shares with Carrick.
Carrick will always remain at the base of what effectively becomes a lop-sided diamond in midfield, and Cleverley is free to enter the opposition's penalty box or linger outside.
This is an effective partnership, and you notice its strengths in the defensive phase of the game.
What isn't abundantly obvious, however, is how heavily it influences Manchester United's goal tally—either directly or indirectly.
Cleverley is a goal threat. The one-two with Carrick below proves that they can play in a tandem even with they're not in a pivot.
But the sight of the very mobile, agile Cleverley hurtling into midfield space has defenders scared. Any time an attacker runs toward a centre-back, he instinctively starts to back-pedal, and it's no coincidence that Robin van Persie finds a large amount of space in front of the centre-backs.
Cleverley plays an important role in every aspect of United's game and creates without even touching the ball. Now that's a good player.
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