Manchester United’s opening preseason matches showcased a host of central midfielders. From Bastian Schweinsteiger to Morgan Schneiderlin to Ander Herrera to Michael Carrick, the Red Devils put almost their entire midfield ranks on display.
With almost all of United’s established first team midfielders receiving valuable minutes, there was one who was left out of proceedings. That man was Marouane Fellaini.
The Belgian experienced a very disappointing end to his season last term, as a red card against Hull City effectively banned him from the opening three games of the coming Premier League season.
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This incident will most likely prove costly for the former Everton player. Louis Van Gaal labelled Fellaini “unbelievably stupid” and stated that he would have to work hard to earn his place back.
This incident has placed Fellaini in quite a precarious position as he will have to work harder than any other for fitness as a result of the lack of match time. Additionally, the plethora of new midfield signings is sure to cut into Fellaini’s match time as well.
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Schweinsteiger, one of the new signings, is a class apart from Fellaini. His assurance and technical ability on the ball are all far more advanced than that of the Belgian international.
If the signing of Schweinsteiger was not enough, Van Gaal also purchased Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. Schneiderlin, a combative midfielder, specialises in the defensive aspects of the game.
His arrival effectively carves an obvious template that Van Gaal is aiming to use. Should United play with a trio in midfield, Schneiderlin or Carrick would play at the base of midfield. This would leave Schweinsteiger, Ander Herrera, and Fellaini to battle for the two advanced midfield positions.
Manchester United relied on Fellaini in the previous campaign. Balls were often hoofed up to the powerful man as he was able to bring them down or head towards goal. These tactics were not up to scratch for a team challenging for the title.
Using Fellaini as a frequent outlet are methods that were used by mid-table club, Everton. Manchester United need to gravitate away from that and the use of Herrera and Schweinsteiger in the advanced roles looks increasingly more likely.
This duo offers technical quality in midfield that a top club needs. These two are also more compatible with Van Gaal’s short passing tactics. Herrera and Schweinsteiger are excellent recyclers of the ball.
Lack of influence
On the other hand, Fellaini often seemed lost when United would control possession. The Belgian would sit on the line of opposing defenders, never influencing the match apart from when a long ball was sent towards him. When he did receive the ball, he was restricted to simple lay offs backwards.
There is still sizeable chance for a substitute role for Fellaini. When time is of the essence and United are behind, the Ferguson-esque gung-ho football will become necessary. Who better to provide this than Fellaini.
He would be an outlet for hoofed passes and introducing a larger physical presence is sure to unsettle opposition defenders. The question would become whether he would accept a substitute role as opposed to consistent playing time.
Manchester United’s squad is starting to come together. With new signings in almost every department, the Red Devils are stepping up to the level of a title challenging side. Unfortunately for Marouane Fellaini, this might be one step too far.