United need every option. Including Fellaini!
With four goals in eight matches this season, Marouane Fellaini has – against all the odds – emerged as a potential hero. The idea that Fellaini could be the difference between title race success and failure has recently been given newfound credence, by the relieved reaction of United fans to the news that his current layoff through injury will be weeks, rather than months as first feared.
In the summer of 2013, Marouane Fellaini was amongst the first to join David Moyes’ brave new project, which was unfurling in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s unforgettable 27-year reign as manager. Despite having an existing and very positive relationship with Moyes, Fellaini saw his profile go on a sharp downward trajectory.
Within the space of a few short months, the Belgian had been relegated to little more than an object of scorn amongst most Manchester United fans, who looked on helplessly as the champions limped to a 7th place finish in 2013/14.
Curiously, it was those very same fans that recently awaited his layoff prognosis with jangling nerves and bated breath. Now, the Belgian international finally appears to be rediscovering his old ability, in adding an element of surprise to a game that needs securing – or saving.
Down to the wire
The latest spread indices at https://www.sportingindex.com/spread-betting/football continue to price the two Manchester clubs as the high buy/sell in the title outright market. Whenever a title race is set to be so close on paper, surprise elements such as a strong aerial presence and positional flexibility can be the telling factor on grass.
Given Fellaini’s poor start to life at Old Trafford, it is only natural that many United fans disremember just how much the Belgian boasts those attributes, when given the right service. His final season at Everton (2012/13) stands prominent in that respect, with Fellaini becoming one of the most feared presences at set pieces in the entire league.
Memorable Fellaini strikes from that campaign include an opening weekend header against Manchester United, a yuletide strike at Manchester City, and a two-goal salvo in a Goodison thriller with Aston Villa. Throughout that season, Fellaini was also a competent guardian against opposition chances on the break, becoming known for his excellent close on his chest as a foil to opposing aerial balls.
Several years earlier, when Everton were in the throes of a striker shortage, Fellaini also operated competently as part of a primitive ‘false nine’. Playing directly behind the diminutive but acrobatic Tim Cahill, Fellaini was able to utilise his excellent vision, and act as the beating heart of an Everton side that embarked on a run to the 2009 F.A Cup final. Turning thirty in November, Fellaini may no longer have the legs for such exertions, but his vision remains as good as ever.
Anfield blank rocks United
More topically, events on the other side of Stanley Park have lent the case for Fellaini’s increased first team involvement even more backing. United’s most recent game, a 0-0 draw at Anfield in which the home side dominated in terms of chances, was a perfect illustration of what the Red Devils are missing while Fellaini is sidelined.
Liverpool’s profligacy should have been United’s gain, but the Red Devils lacked a real aerial presence from set pieces. Corners and free kicks are currently Liverpool’s key weakness, with a defence that has appeared frail against such onslaughts at the most inopportune moments. After years of rumination, two managerial changes and several failed title challenges for United, it seems as though a mere ‘back to basics’ approach to Fellaini’s deployment has done the trick.
With City netting seven goals, and Tottenham breaking their Wembley jinx on the same day of the Anfield stalemate, points will come at a premium, regardless of how decorated a club is. Where the title race is concerned, no quarter is expected and none will be given.
Quite simply, United need every available option, if the Premier League trophy that was once the Red Devils’ birthright is to return to Old Trafford next year.
A graduate of Staffordshire University, Tamhas Woods has a wealth of experience in sports writing and creating betting-related content.