England under-21 duo Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck spent last season on loan at Wigan and Sunderland respectively, and have returned to Carrington for pre-season training with Manchester United. The promising youngsters excelled in their time away from Old Trafford, gaining valuable Premier League first-team experience and maturing as players. With no deals to take them back out on loan in place, will Cleverley and Welbeck be competing for Manchester United jerseys in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side?
Roberto Martinez applauded Cleverley at the tail-end of last campaign, hailing the impact of the 21-year-old midfielder as a key reason behind the Latics relegation survival. The Spaniard is eager to take the Basingstoke born man back to the DW Stadium for a second term, but Sir Alex has rejected this proposal, as he believes it could be time for first team contention for the box-to-box man.
Following loan spells at Leicester City, Watford and the Midlands club last season, and 16 appearances for Stuart Pearce’s England under-21 side, Cleverley is now ready for United. The former Bradford City youth player showcased his ability to score goals from midfield at Vicourage Road, hitting the back of the net 11 times in 33 games, before being awarded Watford’s Player of the Year award.
His form last season was consistently good, as he formed an excellent midfield partnership with fellow youngster James McCarthy in the heart of the Wigan team. His passing, vision and creativity going forward created chances for the attackers in the relegation threatened side, whilst he was energetic and looked to break up opposition play also.
Cleverley will contend a starting berth in United’s midfield with Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Anderson, and if he stays injury free and is willing to spend time on the bench, should get a fair share of game-time as Sir Alex will play him when he shuffles the pack.
Unlike Cleverley, Welbeck has sampled United first-team action before, and had a part to play in the 2007-08 season, making eight appearances and scoring once for the senior side. As opportunities became more limited, a spell at Preston North End was followed by a full season last term at Sunderland, that may well have been the making of the 20-year-old.
The Manchester born man made 26 appearances for The Black Cats in 2010-11, scoring six goals and even made his England international debut against Ghana, the country of his parent’s birth. Steve Bruce used the youngster predominantly as a striker, especially following the sale of Darren Bent in January, and this is his preferred position. With experience playing on the wing, his versatility could be useful for United, but it is believed that Welbeck will be utilised as a forward rather than out wide.
With Wayne Rooney and Chicharito getting the starting jerseys, Welbeck will have to battle Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov to be the main back-up, and despite probably getting more appearances than the eight he received in 2007-08, may find himself on the sidelines for the majority of the campaign.
Both players have returned to the club better than they were the year before, but it looks like Cleverley will have a better chance of featuring at Old Trafford in 2011-12.
Gareth McKnight writes for Soccerlens.com.