Central midfielder Marouane Fellaini was deployed as a makeshift lone striker in Manchester United’s 3-1 win over arch enemy Liverpool last Saturday and was largely ineffective, but he could be useful in that role in the future.
Wayne Rooney’s injury and Louis van Gaal’s reluctance to expose new signing Anthony Martial, the world’s most expensive teenager at £36 million, to a debut start against one of United’s fiercest rivals led to Fellaini’s inclusion up front.
Initially it seemed that van Gaal may have been naïve to offload forwards Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie this summer to Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and Fenerbahce of Turkey respectively, but a strong second half performance, including a stunning goal from the aforementioned new boy Martial off the bench, secured the three points for the Red Devils.
The first half at Old Trafford was a tame, tedious and tepid affair that largely reflected an afternoon kick-a-bout at the local park rather than a red hot derby clash that stretches back decades and was once upon a time the encounter that decided titles and trophies.
Fellaini looked isolated up front and through balls were going astray as he simply did and does not have the speed to get to them. The passes were begging out for the pace of Martial to run onto and create goal scoring opportunities, and he probably would have had a lot of joy too, as the Liverpool back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez failed to win a single tackle in the first half.
United were a different team after the interval, they ripped Liverpool apart with three second half goals. Daley Blind’s cultured, curled finish came just five minutes after the break before Ander Herrera’s penalty and Martial’s well taken goal with his first shot in a United shirt finished Brendan Rodgers’ side off after Christian Benteke’s outrageous overhead kick got them back in it at 2-1.
Despite the complete change in United’s display in the second half, Fellaini’s was very much more of the same, as he failed to make an impact and was not involved in any of the goals scored by the home side.
As part of a two though, Fellaini could be a great option as a striker.
Attribute wise, Fellaini would work perfectly as a target man. His six foot, four inch frame makes him a handful for any defender in an aerial sense, and the Belgian does have a reputation for using his elbows, which, although dangerous play and a risky strategy, it did work well for traditional English striker Alan Shearer – the Premier League’s all-time top goal scorer, formerly of Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.
Fellaini and Martial could work in a partnership similar to that of Emile Heskey and Michael Owen for Liverpool in the 2000-2001 campaign that saw the Reds win the treble of the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup (Robbie Fowler played instead of Owen in the League Cup).
Although not renowned for his goal scoring ability, Heskey did net 14 that season, but was most used to link up play and knocking long balls down to Owen which led to the then 21-year-old winning the Ballon d’Or.
Contrary to perception, Fellaini does know where the back of the net is. With 14 goals in 63 caps for the Belgium national team he is the joint 21st record scorer for the side now ranked second in the world. Fellaini has found the back of the net six times in his last four outings in a Belgium shirt.
Goals have come in a large amount for the man who sports a unique afro at club level too. When used as a number 10 at Everton during the 2012-13 season he ended up on the scoresheet on no less than 11 occasions in 31 games. During that campaign he managed to score against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and current club Manchester United.
He was also United’s joint fourth top scorer last season with six goals, one of which was a fierce piledriver from just inside the box against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
If he is given enough game time, Fellaini could even adjust to being a lone striker, but for now van Gaal has to introduce him slowly, using Rooney or Martial as an out-and-out strike partner, otherwise the man signed by David Moyes could well be accused of being a Manchester United flop once again.
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