Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere are both excellent players, so to compare them with the intention of deciding who is better would be a wasteful exercise. Instead, it is more relevant to the interests of the Premier League and the England set-up to examine the respective strengths and weaknesses of the players and offer suggestions as to how they could complement each other in the future.
It’s perhaps surprising to most that Wilshere has played more minutes than Cleverley in the Premier League this season. Since returning from injury Wilshere has accrued 1,277 minutes of playing time, just edging Cleverley who has played 1,216 minutes: enough data to make an informed comparison.
In this regard, the players are strikingly similar. Cleverley has won 55% of his ground 50-50’s compared to Wilshere’s 54%. This trend is present throughout the players’ defensive statistics. Both have been successfully dribbled past opposition players a similar amount (19 & 18) and both have made only one defensive error this season.
Wilshere’s tackle success rate of 85% outdoes Cleverley’s 79%, yet Cleverley (37 mins) tackles more often than Wilshere (49 mins).
Neither player is physically commanding, so if the two were to feature along-side one another in future England teams, it would make sense for them to be joined by a third, more combative midfielder who would allow Cleverley and Wilshere to play their natural attacking games.
It is in this category that the pair have offered the most hope to England fans; both are equally capable of receiving and distributing the ball with consummate ease. This season, Cleverley (90%) and Wilshere (88%) have registered particularly high open play pass completion rates.
Contrast this to Steven Gerrard (86%) and Frank Lampard (81%) and it becomes a little clearer why Cleverley and Wilshere are currently seen as two of England’s brightest stars in the Premier League.
Again, whilst it might surprise a few fans, Cleverley has held on to the ball much better than Wilshere this season. Wilshere has been dispossessed 23 times this season, twice as often as Cleverley with 11.
More specifically, Cleverley has lost the ball less than once a match, every 101 mins, compared to Wilshere who loses possession every 75 mins. These are both very respectable figures for midfielders, particularly in Wilshere’s case as 29% of his passes are in a forward direction (23% for Cleverley).
It is in this category that Wilshere’s class shines through. Held in high esteem for his passing ability, the fact that he has completed 39 dribbles compared to Cleverley’s 4 is a sign of his versatility.
That could be crucial for Arsenal and England teams in the future.
Cleverley meanwhile, has only crossed the ball 21 times this season, much less often than Wilshere who has attempted 54.
It is in the number of chances created that we see perhaps the greatest difference between the two players. Wilshere (33) has created twice as many chances in total as Cleverley (16) this season. Furthermore, Wilshere is creating a clear-cut chance for his teammates every 425 mins compared to every 608 mins for Cleverley.
However, if there is one criticism of Wilshere it is his lack of contribution in term of goals. He has failed to score in 15 Premier League games this season and whilst Cleverley has scored only 2 himself, he is averaging a shot every 111 mins compared to Wilshere who manages an attempt every 255 mins.
This is perhaps the greatest concern for England, who have been able to rely on goals from Gerrard and Lampard for many years.
It is this one area in which Cleverley and Wilshere could both improve. If the two were able to add goals to their game they could, over time, become great Premier League players.
Ultimately, Cleverley and Wilshere have matured into top class players. Their respective loan spells at Wigan and Bolton appear to have set them in good stead, and Manchester United and Arsenal are now reaping the rewards.
The way Wilshere is the heartbeat of Arsenal is much more indicative of his class than the team’s struggles, and Cleverley’s emergence as a regular in the United team is an equally impressive feat.
The conundrum then, is if the players are able to complement each other in the England team. Wilshere’s overwhelming class between either box twinned with Cleverley’s neat and intricate play is a mouth-watering prospect for England fans, and as long as the two players stay fit, they are surely set to be two of the Premier League’s best midfielders for years to come.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.
3rd Year Sports Student at University of Southampton. Sport fanatic. @Chris__Fleming Researcher for Infostrada Sports and reporter for the IPC at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
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