Ferguson salutes Cleverley after Sunderland stroll

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes Tom Cleverley has taken his game to another level for the Premier League leaders.

England midfielder Cleverley, 23, has emerged as a key man for Ferguson, whose side are six points clear at the top of the Premier League.

He impressed in the 3-2 win at Manchester City last weekend and built on that with a good performance and a goal in the 3-1 victory over Sunderland on Saturday that helped Ferguson's men keep City in their wake.

Cleverley missed much of last season due to injury and having made only five Premier League starts in the whole of the last campaign, he has already managed nine this time around.

"He did very well in the derby and he deserves his position," said Ferguson.

"We have a lot of options in midfield -- Anderson's injured at the moment, but (Darren) Fletcher's there, (Paul) Scholes is there, (Ryan) Giggs is there.

"People keep saying we're weak in midfield, but these are very good players and sometimes it gives me a bit of a problem selecting the right two.

"It was simple because after last week (against City), Cleverley and (Michael) Carrick deserved to play again."

Ferguson's team have now won 10 of their last 11 league matches.

And the United manager, who confirmed that right-back Rafael missed the game with a hamstring problem, felt that some of the interplay against Sunderland was as good as they have produced all season.

Goals from Robin van Persie and Cleverley gave the hosts a half-time lead and Wayne Rooney added a third before the hour, only for United old boy Fraizer Campbell to pull one back late on for the Black Cats.

Ferguson added: "Some of the play was terrific and I don't know whether we relaxed at 3-0 or whether Sunderland got a grip of the game, but in the last 20 minutes, Sunderland played very well and they could have scored two or three goals.

"But up to then, some of our play was fantastic and we should have scored a lot of goals. It was possibly some of the best we've seen this season. Some of it was very good.

"The goal by Tom Cleverley was a marvellous piece of interchange play; a first-time, one-touch finish, really a superb goal.

"That was the way we were playing at that point and I have no complaints about that first hour. It was wonderful to watch."

Ferguson was also boosted by the return of captain Nemanja Vidic, who has missed the last three months with a knee injury.

The United manager said: "He's a warrior, he's the captain. He'll always battle for you, he sticks his head on that ball in the penalty box, and that's what he's great at. It will help us in the next few games."

Martin O'Neill's Sunderland remain just one point above the relegation zone after their defeat at Old Trafford.

The Black Cats manager feels that new signings in January are vital if they are to improve on their league position.

O'Neill's first-team squad currently totals 25 senior players and he is desperate to add more options.

"I think that we would have to be seriously looking to try to strengthen," he said.

"You only have to look at the back of the match programme to see that we don't have great numerical strength."

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