Marouane Fellaini's World Cup revival
Marouane Fellaini has divided opinion ever since his 2013 move to Manchester United. Fans wrote him off without ever giving him a chance. Five years later, he refuses to leave and is bossing it on the grandest stage.
Amid the World Cup chaos, Fellaini agreed to a new two year deal at Manchester United. Like any Fellaini news, the new deal raised a lot of questions. Fans complained that the tall, floppy-haired Belgian isn't a player up to United's standard, that he represents the creeping mediocrity at Old Trafford. Days later, he scored an equalizer in the Round of 16 for his country before bossing a World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil.
Fellaini's first start at the World Cup was against England, wherein both teams fielded their 'B' teams. In that fixture, the flamingo with five o'clock shadow stood out again. He won 10 offensive aerial duels, made two key passes and a crucial block to stop Danny Welbeck's shot. He pretty much ran the show and led by example, although Axel Witsel remains the only other Belgian to sport the Foxy Brown 'fro.
Against Japan, Fellaini played super-sub yet again. Along with Nacer Chadli, he won the game for the Red Devils. The 30-year old added another dimension to their attack, a second clear target at which to aim in the box, along with striker Romelu Lukaku. He scored the second goal and also made three key passes. Fellaini is the definition of an impact player who takes the game by the scruff. After those two performances, how could he not start against Brazil? Sorry, Dries Mertens.
Against Brazil, a mammoth performance unfolded. It was one of the best destructive displays I have witnessed. The Red Devil for club and country had the game of his life, winning seven aerial duels, blocking four shots, making three clearances, winning three tackles. Not just that, he dominated Brazil's two main threats, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar. If either tried to make something happen in the inside-left channel, Fellaini was there to stop them. He manhandled the duo, dispossessing them like they were tourists on the streets of Rio.
Just like that, Manchester United's no.27 put in two match-winning performances, playing different roles in each. His role was quint-essential in both. Belgium's so-called golden generation would be home already without their 30-year old stalwart.
"I think he gets underestimated in his technical ability. I think he is a footballer that has got a level of technical control and ball control a lot higher than people think. As a team player, he always sees that every action is the end of the world and that makes him a warrior and someone that every coach and manager would love to have in his team." - Roberto Martinez
And that is exactly why David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Roberto Martinez have all trusted the big man. Fellaini would run into a wall for his team. In fact, he usually does, much to the wall's regret.
Fellaini could well and truly reciprocate this form for the Mancs. If we're not ignoring the truth, he already has. When United need a late goal, he has stepped up. When United needed to see out a game, he grabs it by the collar and heads for the door.
No, he is not someone to play 40-yard diagonals or ping through balls. Not everyone on your team should. Someone has to be able to chest them down or provide cover when yours don't come off.
Unfortunately, Jose Mourinho is too enamoured of the big man to pick his spots. This was extremely evident in United's Champions League home leg vs Sevilla. Fellaini and Nemanja Matic started in a double-pivot. There was absolutely no need for two defensive midfielders in that game. United played to Fellaini's weaknesses rather than his strengths and suffered. The key for Jose Mourinho is simply not to overuse the Belgian as much as he loves him.
That said, games against sides like Manchester City, Brazil and France are when you need a full dose of Fellaini. He must start again for Belgium. Are you listening, Senor Martinez?