Wilshere, Henderson or Cleverley: Who deserves a starting role?

The Rio Report

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Our friends at Squawka examine the claims of the three young central midfielders available to England manager Roy Hodgson...

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England face Denmark tonight with a number of question marks still hanging over manager Roy Hodgson’s team selection ahead of the World Cup this summer, and the game with the Danes is the last chance for the England boss to experiment before he names his travelling party for Brazil.

One of the areas currently up in the air is the central midfield berth next to captain Steven Gerrard. While the role could feasibly be filled by the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick or even - whisper it quietly – James Milner, it is likely to come down to one of the squad’s trio of young midfielders.

Arsenal star Jack Wilshere, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Manchester United’s much derided Tom Cleverley are the three men vying for the vacant role.

So which one should it be? We take a look at the stats behind the trio’s respective claims.

Going Forward

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Compare the players’ output going forward and there is one clear loser. While Wilshere and Henderson have both created almost two chances per 90 minutes played for their respective clubs this season, Cleverley is languishing on 0.6, having provided just 10 shooting opportunities for his United team-mates.

Cleverley has also only scored one goal this season, with his lack of attacking contribution providing the bulk of the reasoning for the criticism that has plagued his season. Both Wilshere and Henderson are the third highest chance creators at their clubs this season, with Wilshere behind only Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla at Arsenal and Henderson behind Suarez and Gerrard at Liverpool.

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Henderson just pips Wilshere on chances created per 90 minutes, but there is little difference between their creative output, particularly when considering the fact that Liverpool have, on average, created over two chances per game more than their London counterparts.

This, in tandem with Wilshere's slightly deeper role than Henderson's, gives the two men pretty similar creative impacts relative to their club team-mates.

While Henderson shades the chances created aspect, Wilshere is also strong going forward and offers a burst into space and quick feet to take opponents out of the game in a flash, shown in his high levels of completed take-ons this season.

Not Cleverley's Game?

Cleverley will, fairly, point out that he has different strengths to his England colleagues, citing his defensive attributes and ability on the ball. He has endured a level of stick that has been exaggerated and unfair this season, and has suffered from a lack of creativity in front of and alongside him in the dysfunctional United midfield.

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He has made both more tackles and more interceptions per 90 minutes than either of his competitors for the deep-lying berth, although Henderson has made more clearances than either of the other two men.

Surprisingly, Cleverley has made almost four times as many interceptions as Wilshere has this season, suggesting that his defensive abilities could make a case for him to be in the side.

However, some of this is mitigated by the fact that United's poor form has seen them make more clearances and interceptions than Arsenal and Liverpool, whilst Wilshere and Henderson have been alongside two players with high numbers of tackles in Mikel Arteta and Steven Gerrard.

Ability On The Ball

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Advocates of Cleverley in midfield point to his ability to retain and recycle possession - a strength that appears well suited to international football. At first glance, the stats back this up. Cleverley has a slightly higher pass accuracy than both Wilshere and Henderson and has also made more passes per 90 minutes spent on the pitch.

However, upon closer inspection the argument for Cleverley deteriorates. Many of his passes are sideways or backwards, with Wilshere making more forward passes per 90 minutes than Cleverley in spite of fewer total passes.

While the Manchester United man may make a lot of passes, he does little with the ball. Of his Champions League passes this season, almost 50 percent have been backwards. Wilshere, on the other hand has made just 35.8% of his passes in Europe's top competition go back towards his own goal.

With England likely to be reliant upon swift counter-attacks in Brazil, given the pace on offer to Hodgson, both Wilshere and Henderson offer the box-to-box ability to influence matters at both ends of the pitch, rather than slowing the game in the manner that Cleverley often does.

Who Should Go?

All three have a good chance of being on the plane, but the battle to partner Gerrard should be down to Wilshere and Henderson. There is little between the duo, who are both likely to be significant players for Hodgson beyond the World Cup.

In the short term, Wilshere holds the edge over Henderson. He has created similar numbers of chances, despite playing in a slightly deeper role; he has a greater level of international experience and is also in good form with 15 chances created in his last eight games to Henderson's 11.

He averages more passes per game and has proven ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and pull the strings in midfield, giving him a slight edge.

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