Manchester United’s deadline day signing of Marouane Fellaini from Everton will certainly give the Red Devils added steel and ammunition to retain the title ahead of their rivals this term but how will he combine with star striker Robin van Persie?
United legend Henning Berg believes the big Belgian will be an important player for the Red Devils this term, not only because of his quality, but also in his mental, physical, and leadership qualities.
As Berg stated last week, Fellaini has the ability and physical prowess, to hold up the ball like a target man and bring his teammates into the play as well as lead the team with his ‘winning’ mentality and passion.
United have leaders all over the pitch so, in that sense, Fellaini will fit in well with a team that hates to lose and always gives one-hundred per cent for the badge and the fans.
In terms of his play on the pitch, it’ll be interesting to see where manager David Moyes deploys him – will he function as an attacking midfielder working off the frontman like he did for the Toffees last term or will he revert back to his role as a defensive midfield enforcer, breaking up the opposition’s play in front of the back line?
At present, United and England number 10 Wayne Rooney functions very effectively as the playmaker or second striker working off Robin van Persie – Rooney’s creative work in behind the Dutch ace is crucial to the team’s breakdown of defences and, meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa is one of the finest technical players on the continent in those areas.
I suspect, if Rooney’s fit, he’ll play – as long as he shows the kind of quality and dogged determination he did against Chelsea at Old Trafford, he’ll win the manager’s trust and favour but, in his absence (through injury) perhaps the boss will test out how Fellaini fits into the side in that role.
Whether Rooney plays or not, Van Persie will benefit from Fellaini’s target man-esc qualities – United can launch longer balls into the final third and in the middle of the park for Fellaini to hold up, control and then lay-off to Van Persie or Rooney.
The Belgian’s physical superiority will also mean he can draw the big defenders onto him and off Van Persie, giving the Golden Boot winner more time, space and freedom to work his magic in and around the box.
If all three play, Michael Carrick and Kagawa may lose their place – the Englishman was easily one of United’s best performers last term and I think the boss would be foolish to take him out of the team which means the Japanese maestro may have to play out position or, at least, find a diminished access to first-team starts when all of the above are all fit and available.
Fellaini will allow Moyes to set his United side out with a more direct approach than under Sir Alex Ferguson in the last few years – United have always been aggressive, attacking and positive in their approach but recently we’ve seen them play less direct and more intricate play on the ground – that game suits Van Persie ideally.
However, that is not Moyes’ preferred style – at Everton he insisted on aggressive, physical, direct attacking football, often focused on counter-attacking. Fellaini’s arrival means he can and likely will deploy those tactics.
He can keep the United tradition of ‘attack, attack, attack’, breaking teams down and wearing them out with wave after wave of pressure but he can also say to his players to sit back, absorb pressure in their own half and then hit teams on the break, sending long balls up to Fellaini who can find Van Persie to devastate the off-guard defence.
He can revitalise the United widemen who, last term, didn’t offer enough width or penetration – they didn’t stretch teams enough and they didn’t work inside off the flanks either with any real bite.
Ferguson’s ‘golden age’ of United with Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes would put in crosses and long-passes that terrified the opposition. Moyes can tell the wingers he inherits from Ferguson to play more direct, find Fellaini and put balls into dangerous areas where Fellaini will enjoy himself and if Fellaini can do so, Robin van Persie will be the direct beneficiary of that.
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