Jose Mourinho made a strange comment in his post-Manchester derby press conference when he said that Manchester City would have been in ‘big, big trouble’ if he was able to bring Marouane Fellaini off the bench with the score at 2-1.
Unfortunately for the United boss, he had started the big Belgian so he couldn’t bring him on, and he had also deployed him in a defensive midfield role that epitomised the negative approach taken by Mourinho throughout the derby.
In truth, even when the score was 0-0 or 2-1, United never looked like getting anything from the game and Pep Guardiola’s side were comfortable throughout the 90 minutes. This was evident in their 44-pass goal to make it 3-1, when United failed to touch the ball for over two minutes and put no pressure on either Bernardo Silva when he was crossing the ball or Ilkay Gundogan when he brought it down in the 18-yard box to finish.
After his time at Everton and his tendency to grab important goals for United, surely it is now well-known that Fellaini’s best position is further forward where he can bully central defenders and bring other attackers into the game.
Against City though, Mourinho started the 30-year-old in a defensive midfield role alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera.
From his stats we can see that, defensively at least, Fellaini was effective in the game. However, this would have something to do with the fact that United spent almost the whole game camped in their own half.
The 6ft 4in ace made four tackles, seven clearances and won an impressive five aerial duels, but using him like this was almost Mourinho’s admission that his side hadn’t gone to the Etihad in search of three points but that they were simply hoping not to lose. This is a shocking attitude for a derby match, no matter how much better the opposition are on paper or based on recent form.
With 68 touches Fellaini, who earns £100,000-a-week according to The Times, saw more of the ball than any other United player and if he had been allowed to play further forward then he could have caused the City defence problems. Instead he was tasked with playing from deep which is not one of his strong points.
The 87-cap Belgian international recorded a pass accuracy of just 81 per cent and he played no key passes as United failed to create any meaningful chances other than Anthony Martial’s penalty.
Fellaini can hardly be blamed for this as he completed what was asked of him, but Mourinho’s decision to play him there in the first place must be scrutinised.