There was once a day where many United fans were prepared to say that they were wrong. Many had remarked before the season that the team “didn’t have a central midfield” and would therefore not go very far in their quest to be the best side in the world. However, it was after they had swept aside Arsenal 8-2 in August where plenty were brimming with unrivalled optimism, and even despite the worrying lack of depth in the position, were at least adamant that both Tom Cleverley and Anderson made a fearsome duo. It was promising.
It’s an unlikely partnership when you think about it. Both are quite similar in the sense that they play the game with more vitality and energy, and like to get forward, whereas both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are tasked with keeping shape, perhaps more suited to a pragmatic style. These two had first been paired together in an exhibition game against Barcelona in Washington, and what we saw were two players who showed good understanding of each other by sharing the workload efficiently. Neither was more defensive-minded than the other, it appeared, and they continued this into the second half of the Community Shield, where they were once again reunited, guiding the team to a glorious comeback from 2 goals down.
Then Cleverley picked up an injury in the 5-0 win over Bolton. From there, things became a touch awkward for Anderson as he struggled without his favoured partner and having just limped to a 2-0 victory over Norwich, an ounce of pessimism has now crept in. Is Anderson too reliant on Cleverley? Well, the Brazilian has appeared in the starting line up in games against Chelsea, Stoke, Basel and most recently Norwich where the standard has evidently decreased. It is worth noting that in all four of those games, United were largely uninspiring as a collective but Anderson, now alongside Fletcher (or Carrick as he was in the Basel game), has also looked half the player he was back in August. What Anderson must do is be able to prove he can play with whoever, and adapt to any system or style, even if that style oozes pragmatism.
On the evidence of his last four performances, it would be easy to be critical of the player. And in a way, that would be partly justified. While you can’t expect him to play well every week, for someone like Anderson – who has been something of a maligned figure in the past three years – he needs to make some sort of impression because he hasn’t really been able to do so thus far. If you look back at his previous campaigns, you’d find that he isn’t the easiest player to analyse, and, curiously, that isn’t the result of him not playing enough. It’s just that he has a good game one week, and then fades the next.
Yet, the fact that many still have faith in the Brazilian despite not really being able to maintain consistency is a testament to just how talented he is and because of this talent that fans have seen in an inspired game or even in short bursts, they are prepared to be patient on him. Others would still be concerned. Neither is the wrong thing to do.
Were you to review Anderson’s season so far, you wouldn’t have too many bad things to say. Words such as ‘encouraging’ or ‘improvement’ may well be bandied about because, in a general sense, it does indeed look like he has progressed as a player. But the same problem remains; that he’s far too inconsistent. That he struggles to assert himself in particular games. His headed goal against Norwich was vital but, in truth, it was nothing but a convenient smokescreen on what was a pretty average performance. (Some may point out that he made close to 90 passes on Saturday, but if you were to use stats alone to argue your point, it is also worth pointing out that he didn’t make a single tackle.) The greatest worry with a player like Anderson is that we know just how good he is and can be, but it still remains unclear as to whether he’ll fulfil those expectations. The legendary Carlos Alberto went further and said he has the potential to be ‘one of the best players in the world’.
Tom Cleverley is likely to return to fitness in time for United’s next game against Liverpool – it would very interesting to see just which Anderson turns up.