Olympiacos Game Emphasizes Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley's Lack of Quality

Simon Edmonds@@Eddie_EdmondsCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2014

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Jack Rodwell of England warm up with their team-mates during England Training session at London Colney on August 13, 2012 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Manchester United’s somewhat humiliating display against Greek champions Olympiacos should hopefully be the eye-opener that David Moyes needed to find the weak links in his team.

With a disastrous domestic season already dominating their campaign this year, the last thing that the Red Devils boss needed was another terrible record-breaking match to add to the already infamous list he has tallied up in his brief tenure at the club.

This time, fans were subjected to the “first game that Manchester United have ever lost in Greece” being tagged onto the end of the Moyes era.

While this growing list of records is a slightly overhyped statistic, nobody can deny that it is a strong indication of the newfound weakness that the English champions have experienced since the Scotsman took over.

As the classic saying goes: a team is only as good as their weakest player. In the case of Manchester United this season, truer words have never been uttered.

Despite possessing talents like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the raw yet promising Adnan Januzaj, the Red Devil’s key issue comes in the form of the players that these elites are dragging along behind them.

While some squad members still need to be allowed the time to adjust and mould into their roles, in the case of others that ship has well and truly sailed.

Names that spring to mind in regards to the latter include Tom Cleverley (whose recent England call-up baffled an entire nation) and Ashley Young.

PIRAEUS, GREECE - FEBRUARY 25:  (L-R) Ashley Young of Manchester United holds off Michael Olaitan of Olympiacos during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Olympiacos FC and Manchester United at Karaiskakis Stadium on February 25,
Michael Regan/Getty Images

I think what perhaps makes the continued presence of these two players at the club most baffling is the fact that somehow the pair seem to maintain a relatively strong first XI billing.

With players like Marouane Fellaini, Darren Fletcher and even Phil Jones all able to play in the holding role that Cleverley occupies, this reporter can’t quite get his head around the man from Basingstoke’s inclusion in the matchday squad on such a regular basis.  

It has been proven and well documented by this point that, sadly, the 24-year-old just isn’t the player he seemed to be when he burst onto the scene back in 2011.

While his passing ability is at times up to the required standard, his somewhat scrawny nature means that in a role where one would expect a player to go in hard and challenge for the ball, Tom is often brushed aside.

While some of the greats of the game have come to work around their stature acting as a hindrance, Cleverley does not fall into this category.

A  lack of ability to finish simple chances as well as a general mediocrity surrounding his skill level all aid in the argument against his future United career.

He had his chance, but the lad isn’t getting any younger. Yes, 24 isn’t exactly old, but in footballing terms if a player has yet to show their world-class potential by this age, you can generally write them off from ever doing so.

It’s nice that the club puts so much faith in a product of their youth system, but with the performances we have seen from this particular specimen, it would more than likely be in the best interest of both parties if a quiet summer exit to a mid-tier EPL side came to fruition.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07:  Tom Cleverley of Manchester United (L) reacts during the Capital One Cup Semi-Final, first leg match between Sunderland and Manchester United at Stadium of Light on January 7, 2014 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Laur
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In the case of Ashley Young, the loyalty is even more unfounded and confusing.

Having signed Young from Aston Villa back in 2011, the former Watford youth player spent the first month and a half of his United career looking absolutely top draw—promptly followed by two and a half years of torment and frustration for United fans.

Ashley Young can cross a football. Boy, oh boy can he whip that ball into the box. Sadly though, if that was really the only quality you needed to play for the most successful team in the history of English football, then after a few weeks of training down the local park and I might be strutting out in the red of Manchester myself.

I jest, but really what has maintained Young’s career at Old Trafford to this point is that rare ability to strike a ball cleanly and smoothly. Few players posses the ability to do this (Gareth Bale is the prime example of a player who can).

The difference between Bale and Young however, is that the Galactico has the ability to aim. Sure, Young may score the odd screamer here or there, but only after a good 10 or 11 consecutive sky-rockets sent into the upper decks of the stands.

You watch Gareth Bale play and the Welshman will get nine out of 10 shots on target. Ashley Young is the poor man’s Bale. No, sorry, the homeless man’s Bale.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Ashley Young (L) of England holds off the challenge of Gareth Bale (R) of Wales during the UEFA EURO 2012 group G qualifying match between England and Wales at Wembley Stadium  on September 6, 2011 in London, England.  (Ph
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

And all of that is before we address his general inability to pass a ball on the floor—you know, that thing you're taught to do in your first-ever training session aged six. Against the Greek outfit, Young gave the ball away time and time again as United looked to counter.

Ryan Giggs is 40 years old and possesses little to no pace these days. For the English champs it would have been better playing the soon-to-be-retired former winger back in his old position, actually being able to find players and keep a move flowing, than it was to start Young.

In reality, dropping Adnan Januzaj was the complete wrong decision from Moyes. Yes he’s young, but I think most fans would agree they have more confidence in a young player of his talent than…well, Young.

Ultimately, what amazes me most about both of these players' continued regular involvement is that there are already other midfielders in the squad who would easily do a better job than them.

This isn’t a case of a general lack of depth in the position (especially in regards to the left wing, with both Shinji Kagawa and Januzaj available).

The loss to Olympiacos may finally encourage Moyes to see this gaping flaw in the team and prompt him to shift his priorities a little when it comes to his first team.

Either that, or the all-star front men will have to continue to pull dead weight behind them.


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