Premier League

Marouane Fellaini – Mourinho’s Unsung Hero?

No matter what the supporters say, Marouane Fellaini is an important part of Jose Mourinho’s XI. In 2013, the midfielder was bought under the short-lived managerial tender of David Moyes. After a summer of almost, but not quite, signing marquee players like Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale, United fans were left with the Belgian international. 

A ‘Plan B’ Player

Despite never being Fellaini’s biggest fan, I appreciated he could do a job for any team in the world. Look at some of United’s major rivals like Arsenal and Liverpool who are limited, and who don’t have a ‘plan b’ whenever the “tikka-takka” football ceased to be effective. In Fellaini’s defence, he can break up play and is great in the air to win headers andtake the ball on the chest. He is not the type of player who is going to glide across a football pitch, but with his height and long stride he can easily make up ground on his opponent. Take, for example, United v Chelsea on 16 April 2017. There was an excellent piece of play by Kante. He got the ball in his own half, skipped by Fellaini who proceeded to track him back. Kante then knocks the ball around the defender but Fellaini has stuck with him all the way and takes the ball back to setup a United attack.

The Belgian has scored some important goals, and provided assists too. United had the goal against Celta Vigo in the Europa league last season to give us a 2-0 lead on aggregate in the tie. Fellaini also setup Pogba for the goal in Europa League final. His header versus Hull in the League Cup in the first leg at Old Trafford virtually killed the game off.

United’s Atypical Midfielder

Fellaini is not a typical Man Utd player. He is not a Roy Keane, the Irish enforcer who was like a terrier on a football pitch, covering every blade of grass and raising the standards of everyone to ensure a victory. He’s not Paul Scholes, who was a ginger magician with a football. Nor is he a Carrick, Pogba, or Herrera. Instead, Fellaini is deployed to break up play and be an outlet for the attack. I’ve never seen a player with such great chest control. If you’ve ever played football, no matter what level, when a football is getting fired your direction and you must try take the ball down with your chest, and it is not easy. If you look at some YouTube videos of his work on a pitch, it’s the stuff that doesn’t attract attention. The example I use here is Robin Van Persie, best known for his ability to score goals. No doubt, he won United their 20th league title. But the Dutch forward also made countless defensive front post headers for his team mates, although nobody ever remembers that side of the game.

Big Chances Missed

Fellaini is not known for his subtlety. There have been many times where a left or right elbow has been swung towards an opponent and you just wonder why he’s doing it. In the Premier League Fellaini has a total of 54 yellow cards and 3 red cards from 243 appearances. That works out as a card 1 in out of every 4 games. For a man of his size, he lost out on 513 aerial battles, which is a concern. ‘Big chances missed’ are at 35. For example, during this summer’s game versus Real Madrid, he had a chance to score from 8 yards out, centre of the goal only the keeper to beat. A great cross from McTominay, sent into Fellaini who hit it high and wide. It’s play like that which can rile United fans. Getting sent off versus Manchester City at the Etihad was silly. There was no need to get involved with Aguero, then he throws his head and United are hanging on at the Etihad. Silly things he needs to get out of his game.

That said, Fellaini is big, tall and has great qualities in terms of chest control, heading ability, putting his heart on the line. However, to be a Man Utd player you need to have a slightly more finesse. Fellaini has done a great job so far under Mourinho, he understands his role in the team and excels at it. United fans should be glad he is not playing against them next season –Fellaini is capable of causing teams problems.

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