Manchester United put in arguably their best performance of the season on Sunday, beating top four rivals Tottenham 3-0 at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal’s men had an unlikely hero, with Marouane Fellaini putting in a man of the match performance and terrorising the opposition defence.
Although the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will gain the plaudits for continued impressive performances and playing significant roles in the victory, the giant Belgian’s influence should not be overlooked. From an attacking central midfield position, the former Everton star bombed forward at will to support lone striker Rooney and took up some exceptional positions between Spurs’ midfield and defence.
With Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb having their hands full with the likes of Ander Herrera and Carrick, Fellaini took advantage of space in front of Tottenham’s rearguard, which facilitated United’s continued breaking down of their opponents. The Belgium international dispatched a shot early in the encounter to put United into the lead, with the confidence and technique shown by the former Standard Liege man notable.
From there Fellaini was heavily involved in a home display that focussed on getting the ball down and passing it – nullifying the stereotype that having the lofty attacker in the team means a more direct approach. On occasion United did play the ball aerially to the 27-year-old, who won the majority of his duals and nodded possession to an onrushing team-mate.
This performance was one of stark contrast to the man that arrived at Old Trafford back in September 2013 for a hefty fee. With David Moyes bringing the Belgian with him from Goodison Park, many of the United faithful were unsure of whether Fellaini had the finesse to fit in with the Red Devils’ footballing ethos.
A section of the Old Trafford faithful were concerned that his presence would see a shift to a more direct style of play, while in early months of his United tenure Fellaini did little to win over his doubters. More often than not deployed in the centre of midfield by Moyes, the giant Belgian was culpable in a distinctly ordinary team.
He admitted that adjusting to life at Old Trafford was taking its toll, while technically Fellaini offered little compared to the great midfield generals of yesteryear.
With things going badly for Moyes and United, Fellaini became the scapegoat of the Scottish manager’s tenure, with criticism and abuse in hefty measures from the club’s fans and the media. Injuries took their toll, while the bushy-haired star became a figure of folly and a joke amongst rival supporters.
Fast forward 12 months and Fellaini is back to the barnstorming form that he displayed at Everton and can be a driving force in United’s quest to secure Champions League qualification. Van Gaal must be given credit for not merely overlooking a player that identified so clearly with his predecessor and the Dutch coach is getting the best out of the versatile Belgium international.
More importantly, after being subjected to his fair share of criticism when things were not going well, Fellaini is more deserving of praise than most after Sunday’s result.