The new Fabregas? Cleverley's wasteful England showing betrays the hype

The Manchester United youngster was compared to the Barcelona star by Roy Hodgson ahead of the Three Lions' clash with Ukraine but the makeshift No.10 failed to impress
By Wayne Veysey at Wembley

If Tom Cleverley wasn’t already well acquainted with the slings and arrows of international football, then he soon will be.

From being hailed the future of England’s midfield to being the tactical misfit against opponents who Roy Hodgson’s team had defeated at a neutral venue only three months previously.

Four days. Or, one match. That’s all it took for the swift downgrade in the Manchester United man’s status.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of trial by Twitter and instant judgement U-turns, it was clear from the 62 minutes of Cleverley’s ragged display at a Wembley only three-quarters full that he is neither the finished article or, as Roy Hodgson ridiculously claimed, England’s answer to Cesc Fabregas.

It was not just in the way that Cleverley fluffed a hat-trick of excellent opportunities in swift succession towards the end of the first half that demonstrated the vast room for improvement in his game.

Perhaps more significantly the 23-year-old looked rather lost in the No.10 role that Hodgson had earmarked for the injured Wayne Rooney this autumn.

Just as in Moldova four days earlier, his youthful legs were positioned in advance of the old guard of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

But his movement and eye for a pass that had been so in evidence in the footballing backwater of Chisinau were not so apparent in front of 68,102 spectators at Wembley against a Ukraine team who were far more impressive than in Euro 2012.

Unsurprisingly, for someone who has barely been used in his infrequent United appearances – it should not be forgotten that Cleverley has played only 13 Premier League games for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team – in the second striker role, he looked a square peg in a round hole.

Possession was squandered carelessly. He got caught out of position. Off the ball, he was even more uncomfortable than he was with it.

Credit is due for arriving in excellent goal-scoring positions but, either side of Levgenii Konoplianka’s wonder goal, Cleverley missed two opportunities that will not make easy viewing when he watches the highlights.

Firstly, he fluffed a shot straight at Ukraine keeper Andrii Piatov from no more than four yards and, then, no less embarrassingly, skewed wide from just outside the six-yard box.

His weak shot from a tight angle on the cusp of half-time made it an unwelcome hat-trick although, compared to its two predecessors, it was not too damning.  

Cleverley has no great pedigree as a goalscorer in the Premier League, even on loan at Wigan Athletic - although he had a reasonable record during loan spells at Leicester City and Watford.

Which made it even more strange that he should be linking the midfield and the attack ahead of two such renowned finishers as Gerrard and Frank Lampard, although it is unarguable that the Chelsea man’s legs have begun to give way.

Cleverley looked uncomfortable playing so close to Defoe but Hodgson is hardly likely to abandon his faith in the player, even if Rooney is available for the October qualifiers against San Marino and Poland.

In many ways, he epitomises the new generation of England players who the new manager is blooding on the way to Brazil in 2014.

Along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand (as well as injured trio Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling), Cleverley providing the counter to the battle-hardened expertise of the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Ashley Cole.

But a low-key evening against smart opponents proved that Cleverley is not quite ready to carry the torch for the young guard. At least, not quite yet.

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