Fellaini lined up for his 17th appearance of the season on Monday evening, as the Red Devils lost at home to Arsenal in the FA Cup, and his role in the team highlights the massive weakness in the United squad.
Although named in the midfield, the Belgian international filled his usual free role, drifting between the middle and final third of the pitch to provide a physical threat. With head coach Louis van Gaal looking to frequently get the ball in the box, the large midfielder was a wise choice, and he also added some strength to a midfield lacking in physicality.
The role was one that Fellaini grew into during his time with Everton, and played last season under the tutelage of David Moyes at Old Trafford. He remains part of van Gaal’s squad as a useful outlet - and a completely different threat to any other player - although his role in the forward line shows the real weakness that the Red Devils possess.
With United utilising a target man system, Fellaini is the best option in the team to start alongside the goalscoring threat of Wayne Rooney. However, his lack of technical ability means that he can both excel and struggle in the process of the same action. The 27-year-old may win the ball in the air due to his height, but, when trying to hold it up or move it closer to the opponent’s goal, he is frequently found wanting.
Due to the increased preference for possession-based play in recent years, there are a lack of real top quality target men on the market. This leaves Fellaini as one of a dying breed, but his ability shows how he is a converted midfielder, rather than a forward.
This season, despite winning 3.6 aerial duels per game, Fellaini has managed just 1.5 shots per game, and has only scored four times in 17 appearances. His defensive work is far better than his attacking play, and he completes fewer than one key pass and dribble per game.
It seems strange to think that Fellaini is one of the most important members of van Gaal’s first-team squad in the current climate, but it just goes to show how badly organised United’s squad was prior to the start of the season. Fellaini does his job as asked, but it is clear that United need to sign a real attacking target man if they intend to keep the same system, as the towering Belgian is far from the ideal choice to lead the line of a Premier League giant.