Cleverley return key for United's title challenge


There was something symbolic about Tom Cleverley’s emergence from a four month injury lay-off in Manchester United's Europa Cup tie against Ajax on Thursday night.


The 22-year-old made his way gingerly on to the Amsterdam Arena pitch, replacing Paul Scholes - the man whom he is seen as the long-term successor to.


There was also something to be said about Cleverley’s finest moment of the game, a delightful pinged ball to Wayne Rooney in attack after the talented youngster had demanded the ball from Michael Carrick - the man originally designed to step into the Ginger Magician’s shoes when he joined the club 2006.


There was only tiny hints of his potential in his 30 minute run out, but there was enough to suggest Cleverley can take up the mantle as midfield playmaker, and help ease the burden placed upon Scholes for the remaining 13 games of the Premier League season.


Since his dramatic retirement u-turn Scholes has been forced to play more often than his ageing legs perhaps would like him too, and while if United’s win over Liverpool is anything to go by he still has the magic touch, Ferguson will at least be pleased he can now use the 37-year-old more sparingly.


Of course, there is no greater man for the youngster to learn from that Scholes, with Ferguson admitting Cleverley was ‘desperate’ to play alongside Scholes rather than replace him.


Having the two players at the opposite end of the age spectrum is an ideal balance for Ferguson and United, and while various injuries have curtailed Cleverley’s appearances so far this season, with the game against Ajax marking only his eighth game of the season in a red shirt, he now has the opportunity to learn at the sharp end of the season from a man who has been there countless times before.


His contribution may have been small during his 29 minutes on the pitch but the implications for United’s title challenge was huge as they welcomed back a man that Sir Alex Ferguson lauded as ‘absolutely phenomenal' after his breakthrough into the United team this season.


The Scot continued: "I've not seen that impact from a young player at our club for a long time. He's been a loss because he's got something different from everyone else."


Unfortunately for Cleverley, this wasn’t a vintage United performance for him to get straight back into the swing of things with, nor was he facing an Ajax side playing the game in the manner of their illustrious forefathers.


There was an air of caution from both sides in Amsterdam, and not too many opportunities for Cleverley to demonstrate his range, especially with Antonio Valencia limping off 15 minutes from time. But as a gentle introduction back into action it did the job, and now he will have sights set on ensuring he can live up to his claim that Manchester United will finish above Manchester City this season.


Ferguson has long since held the belief that Cleverly will be crucial to the outcome of the title race this season, such is his belief in the youngster.


United will be counting their lucky stars that his return, coinciding with a crucial run of fixtures that will go some way to defining their season, has come at the same time as Scholes’ reemergence as well as Michael Carrick’s rich vein of form – where earlier in the season United’s midfield was cited as a weakness it now appears one of their main strengths.

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