A price tag of £27.5 million is pressure enough. Factor in that it came via a transfer to the champions of England, to play in a position that has been hopelessly neglected in terms of player recruitment since 2007, and the stakes were upped still further. It was the move he wanted, but now the microscope is firmly set on Marouane Fellaini. In truth Manchester United fans had hoped for something slightly more glamorous, having seen the club flirt with Fabregas, Thiago and Herrera amongst other during the summer transfer window. However, the fans were still relieved to finally see a long awaited midfield signing, and one that on paper would add some bite to the engine room of the team.
With that in mind, just how has Fellaini got on in the infancy of his Manchester United career?
Fellaini was first available for selection in the home fixture against Crystal Palace. He came on as a replacement for the ineffective Anderson with the team one up against ten men and slotted into midfield next to Michael Carrick. With the newly promoted team having been under the cosh for the majority of the match and tiring, it was the perfect environment for Fellaini to make his debut. He came on to a rousing reception and did the simple things well - he was tidy in possession and troubled their keeper with a decent long range effort.
He made his first start in the opening Champions League game of the season at home to Bayer Leverkusen. Again he played alongside Michael Carrick. He did well in terms of tackling, but tended to be wasteful in possession, giving the ball away on multiple occasions particularly in the first half. Overall though, he and Carrick provided a platform to let the front six attack – and the resounding four two victory may have papered over some cracks in terms of Fellaini’s overall contribution on his full debut.
And then came the derby debacle. It’s wrong to signal out Fellaini alone when the team’s display as a whole was so pitiful, but there is no escaping how poorly he performed. Slow to close men down, a lack of tactical discipline in terms of tracking back, and poor in possession; this was a horror show from Fellaini. He wasn’t helped by the fact that he was paired alongside Carrick again – if ever there was a case for Moyes to adjust tactically and add a third body centrally to counter the power and athleticism of City’s midfield, then this was it.
So just about two and a half games in and safe to say it’s been a mixed bag thus far for Fellaini, as indeed it has been for David Moyes’ incarnation of Manchester United. There are some nagging doubts at this early stage as to what he can bring to the team. He believes his best position is as a defensive midfielder, but his performance in the derby was poor playing from there; his tracking and tackling (which are fundamental to the role) were both nonexistent. Fans were pleased to finally land a player that likes to put his foot in, but he needs to get close enough to his opponents to actually achieve this. It’s also a position that he has rarely played in, at least in his time with Everton - he is still very much a novice in this area of the pitch. On the evidence of the Leverkusen and City games, his passing is also a notch below top class level. While nobody expects Scholes-like accuracy, the bare minimum is retention and recycling of possession. Fellaini is also one paced, which against the better teams may be a disaster when paired with the similarly slow Carrick (who rightfully is the clubs first choice midfielder). At the moment one would suggest that he doesn’t truly excel in any one department.
However, we would do well to remember that he’s still coming to terms with the position he claims to be his favourite, and as such we should afford him the time to apply his skills and hone his craft (though there is an argument that at £27.5 million, you should come ready made). He needs time to settle at Old Trafford, to acclimatise to his new teammates and surroundings. While he is a beginner at United, he is a proven Premier League performer, and offers a presence and a physicality that had been lacking in the squad.
The jury is still out, but there remains plenty time for deliberation.