Manchester United fans were bemused with the news that the maligned Marouane Fellaini was chosen to start United’s first Premier League clash against Bournemouth. However, Fellaini impressed with an incredible performance that displayed his potential as a United player, answering all his critics in emphatic fashion with an excellent performance at the heart of United’s midfield. Often criticized and jeered by United fans, Fellaini has had a tough tenure in Manchester.
But he’s slowly combatting his reputation. Often, Fellaini mixes the odd excellent performance in a bag of poor performances. This is not because he’s an inconsistent footballer, but better explained by Louis van Gaal and, surprisingly, David Moyes, failing to utilize him to his best abilities. However, this performance seems to be less of a pick out of the hat, because the system looked built to suit his abilities perfectly.
Fellaini was allowed to use his physicality, aerial ability and tackling nous in midfield while Ander Herrera covered him for pace and movement. Most conveniently, Fellaini’s biggest weakness deep in midfield, his poor positioning, was clearly fixed into a disciplined role against Bournemouth. Seldom moving forward in an irresistible temptation to try and head home crosses, Fellaini was able to focus on his main responsibilities on the pitch. This limited his foul concession while Herrera limited the space he needed to cover.
The results were as quantitative as qualitative. United’s defence was solid throughout the game, barring a minuscule error that allowed Adam Smith to score a wonder goal. Fellaini completed 6 tackles, an interception and three clearances in the match. Most surprisingly, he completed 76 passes, which was fourth in the entire Premier League, behind only Fernandinho (City passed the ball around all match), Oriol Romeu and partner Ander Herrera, who proved the perfect partner. Most remarkably, Fellaini’s pass completion percentage was a broken 98.7%, which put the icing on the cake as he earned a 7.64 rating, behind only Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Jose Mourinho highlighted the form of a player who he felt seemed to be fighting against a tough reputation for a long time. Mourinho was impressed with the qualities Fellaini could offer from the start, and seemed intent on using the Belgian Afro for a while yet- especially while Morgan Schneiderlin continues to build his fitness at United. Mourinho stressed that Fellaini would be hard to dislike if he maintained the level of form he had against Bournemouth.
“With Fellaini I always have the feeling that he was not loved by the general Red people,” Mourinho said. “But, if he plays like he’s playing now, they have to love him because he’s being so important for us.”
While Fellaini is fighting a massive individual battle with the media reception surrounding Manchester United, he seems firmly focused on the ultimate goal- to make United what it used to be. He seemed intent on working to improve for himself and for the collective as he searches for his long-awaited success at United. He also brought up an interesting point about Jose Mourinho trying to restore the aggression, confidence, and passion that was once a normality at Old Trafford. His performances on the pitch, along with his words in the media, prove that Mourinho has made a positive impact on him compared to all of his previous managers at Manchester United.
“It was a tough game for both sides. Bournemouth played well in the first half. In the second half we kept the ball better and created more chances and more possibilities for ourselves. We took those chances and got the win which was good for us.
“I hope we will see more goals this season but we have to keep working and keep improving every game and every session. The manager is helping bring this feeling of aggression and character that we need to win games which is very important. We have to improve every game if we want to do something well this season and we want to prove to everyone that Man United are back.”
It is easy to believe Paul Pogba will join Fellaini in midfield on Friday, and while we would all love to see the promising Herrera in midfield again, it seems United must persist with 4-2-3-1 with Wayne Rooney in front of a midfield two, regardless of the Englishman’s abject performances. However, Fellaini will do well to continue to cement his place with top drawer performances like the one against Bournemouth. With those, he’ll continue to build his reputation towards what it was at Everton when he was in the form that inspired United to shell out £27.5 million for him in the first place.