Blog by: The Football Addict
Manchester United after (reportedly) trying to buy Francesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera and Thiago Alcantara, ended up buying Marouane Fellaini in the final few minutes of the summer transfer window.
Without commenting on how good – or otherwise – the transfer window has been for United, let’s get down and see what Fellaini will bring to the Manchester club.
Last year, there were some clear shortcomings from United’s midfield. First was the lack of goals from United’s central midfielders, and the second, was the failure of the midfield to provide sufficient cover to the defence under times of pressure.
The lack of goals problem:
Pre-Fellaini, United’s main central midfielders were Cleverley, Carrick and Anderson. Giggs and Kagawa also had appearances in midfield last season, but that particular position isn’t where they are suited best.
Kagawa is a player who prefers to play as a trequartista – a classic no. 10. Giggsy on the other hand, is a still a very useful squad player to have around, but he is not good enough in the centre of the park. He should be deployed occasionally, as and when required, either on the left wing or in the hole. However, more on this later.
The midfielders in question, Cleverley, Carrick and Anderson had just 4 league goals combined over the length of the entire season. The combined playing time they got was about 5,315 minutes.
Cleverley got 2 goals in 1,447 minutes of PL action with Carrick and Anderson only having a solitary goal to show for their efforts in 3,045 and 823 minutes respectively.
Fellaini, on the other hand, was instrumental in Everton’s goal-scoring in the league last season. He bagged a total of 11 goals in the 2,785 minutes that he played, scoring 20% of Everton’s league goals last term.
From United’s point of view, he’s going to be a real asset to the team in attack, especially during the set-pieces. Manchester United scored a league-high 22 goals from set pieces last season. Fellaini, with a towering frame standing at 6-feet 5, will be another man they can aim the ball at during such situations. He scored 5 goals from headers last season, and will not deny a few more goals in that respect, I’m sure.
All the talk about his physique and his ability to score goals from headers, makes us think about his ability on the ball. He is a lanky midfielder with a good jump, but there’s a lot more to him than just that.
He’s an accomplished passer of the ball. Maybe not a Fabregas or Ozil type, but you can depend on him to pass the ball to a team mate and get the ball ahead to the team mate in times of pressure. He can have important contributions to the goal scoring with his passing. This is something he’s under-rated at.
Last season for example, he had a total of 35 key passes in 31 appearances. The above mentioned Anderson and Cleverley together managed a total of 29 key passes in a combined 39 appearances, while Carrick was only able to achieve 33 key passes in 36 games. He creates chances and had 5 assists to show for it while Carrick, Cleverley and Anderson managed just 7 between them.
*Click on the image to enlarge
And here’s a small video to show a bit of his skill with the ball, a superb 360° turn after Craig Bellamy had over-run the ball:
The defence screening problem:
The other problem with United’s midfield was its inability to provide sufficient support to the defence in times of pressure. The midfield failed to stop opposition attacks, and this resulted in excessive pressure on the defence and shots from distance.
These are situations that one wants to avoid at all times, situations which can cost the team important points. Fellaini will be a highly useful addition to the team in this respect.
*Click on the image to enlarge
As clear from the stats above, Fellaini wins more duels than the aforementioned trio. Fellaini won a total of 151 headed duels in the league last term, more than five times the number managed by Cleverley, Anderson and Carrick together (30).
Although the United trio won a lot more tackles and take-ons, the total duels won by them (216) together is still significantly lesser than what Fellaini managed (276).
*Click on the image to enlarge
On the interceptions front, United’s midfield fared much better. But this success was largely down to Carrick who had a total of 76 interceptions which were included in his total 159 defensive actions. Cleverley and Anderson however, still lag behind. The duo managed a meagre 62 defensive actions in comparison to 109 by Fellaini who had 8 fewer appearances than the duo combined.
The third problem:
The third problem? What was that I hear you ask? Well, not directly a problem caused by the midfield, but influenced by it. But, nonetheless, it is one problem we had in our last season that Fellaini will solve. The problem of ‘misplaced’ players.
In the last two seasons, our shortcomings in midfield have led to players being played out of position for the sake of the team. Rooney was played in midfield for a few matches. In others, he had to get back to help the midfield with defending opposition attacks. Nonetheless, this led to Rooney having to sacrifice his attacking instincts, which was not good for the team.
Similarly, Kagawa was brought in after winning two back-to-back Bundesliga Player of the Year awards as a classic no. 10. He had a reputation for quick short passes and one-twos. He was terrific for Dortmund in the role.
But similarly, he had to sacrifice his attacking role and play as a central midfielder in a few matches, a role he’s not entirely comfortable in. In other games, owing to injuries or fatigue, Giggs was played in the similar role. Giggs however is not suited to the role, being predominantly one-footed places its limitations on Giggs’s role in the centre.
But Fellaini’s transfer gives us different options now. Which brings us to our next question.
Where does he fit in?
Fellaini will be the man to partner Carrick in the middle of the park and provide a solid defensive cover for the back four. With Van Persie up front, there could be a 3-man attacking midfield to support him. This is what the team could look like in my opinion.
The trio of Kagawa, Rooney and Nani will be given attacking freedom to support van Persie while Fellaini and Carrick shield the defence and support the attack when required, especially against the smaller teams to provide a late runner into the box.
Fellaini is a box-to-box midfielder, and as Steve Round said, he has the legs to do the running all over the field. He can be a massive goal threat with his late runs into the box. But his main role in the side is as a defensive midfielder.
In Welbeck, Cleverley, Young, Anderson, Giggs and Hernandez, we have excellent options on the bench or when rotation of the squad is required. So, as I think, the options look promising in this 4-2-3-1 formation.
Our defence and attack, both look improved which is just another reason to stay positive and look forward to his debut against Crystal Palace.
Feel free to express your opinions in the comments below, or on twitter.
Stats: WhoScored and Squawka.
Line Up on field view: footballuser.com
– By Dheeraj Khandelwal.