Last Sunday’s defeat against Swansea told us a fair few things about Man United so far this season, one being that the squad isn’t balanced and that they are well in short in the striking department.
It is fair to say that the Reds aren’t well stocked in that striking departments, which has led to United boss Louis van Gaal to suggest that midfielder Maraoune Fellaini could play up front, which was the role the Belgian midfielder played when he came on against Swansea last Sunday.
But is it actually a viable option to play the midfielder up front? Well, when he is deployed in a deeper central defensive midfield role he struggles, and doesn’t really play to his strengths.
This is something van Gaal has recognised by saying that this season Fellaini will be used as a no9 or no10, opposed to the deeper role in which former Man United boss David Moyes fielded the former Everton man.
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In his Premier League career so far, Fellaini has been used just once as a target man striker and that was for Everton. But he has had a fairly significant impact coming off the bench for Man United, on the occasions he has been thrown on as a lump it long striker.
On the nine occasions it has happened under van Gaal, United have scored six goals and conceded just twice.
There is no doubting that when Fellaini is used in this way his sizeable 6ft 4in frame causes plenty of problems for the opposing defences, and despite United’s good footballing reputation, van Gaal isn’t worried about playing long balls. Only relegated pair QPR and Burnley played more long balls than the Red Devils last term.
Along with that, their long ball accuracy was the best in the league, with 54% of them finding their target, suggesting van Gaal’s side have the ability needed to make the most of Fellaini’s strengths, too.
He can certainly do it as a striker, but Fellaini would admit himself that his best position is behind the striker in a number 10 role. That is where you get the best out of the Belgium international.
In 40 matches in that position Fellaini has produced the goods, with a hand in 19 goals (11 goals and eight assists). It is where he produces his best form, but despite this, perhaps because of his nature he isn’t often used so much in that position, as the ‘long ball team’ tag could be branded to whoever chooses to play him there.
It is strange as when played deeper, he simply is wasted. Fellaini has been involved in just 15 goals in 97 starts from a deeper role, which proves how ineffective he can be in that role.
This also highlights the way van Gaal should use him, which would be a good decision considering the difference he can have when he is played further forward.