Could Fellaini Be United's Number Ten?

The long-term plan for David Moyes will surely be for Wayne Rooney to slot behind Robin van Persie, but WhoScored's Ali Tweedale thinks Marouane Fellaini could be the man for now...

Last Updated: 11/09/13 at 10:25 Post Comment

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David Moyes' last-gasp signing of Marouane Fellaini was, without question, rather desperate. The Manchester United manager successfully brought in one of his most influential players from his time at Goodison Park, but failed to sign another as Leighton Baines remained on Merseyside. Fellaini's purchase dumbfounded rather than inspired some United fans, who questioned why he wasn't signed earlier in the window before his release clause expired for £4million less than the eventual £27.5million they shelled out.

The Belgian will improve the United team, and the signing was a necessity if only as a morale boost for a side that looked like stagnating after successive failures to find the net, or even create a significant chance against Chelsea and Liverpool. But how exactly he will fit in is yet to be seen.

It is presumed that Fellaini will slot in to defensive midfield in United's 4-2-3-1, adding bite and muscle to an otherwise distinctly lightweight middle pairing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley. The pair have averaged fewer tackles per game combined this season (3.7) than Fellaini alone (4.3), even though Everton have had more of the ball (64.1%) than any other team in the Premier League, while United have averaged only 52.8% possession. United also committed the fewest fouls in the Premier League last season (9.9 per game), and while that was hardly a deficiency for the team that eventually won the title, the team's critics this term have argued that there is a distinct lack of fight in the team that maybe they have needed ever since Roy Keane retired.

As previously mentioned though, United's downfall has been going forward rather than defensively this season. The two goals they have conceded came after Danny Welbeck was punished for giving the ball away on the edge of his own area at Swansea, and from a corner at Anfield.

Fellaini wouldn't have been many people's first choice for United to sign this summer, but now that he is their only noteworthy signing, they have to make do with just him. And with their need for inspiration going forward glaring, the big Belgian, who top scored for Everton last season, may be utilised higher up the pitch.

Fellaini himself is hardly the most creative of players - 1.3 key passes per game and five assists last season aren't typical of a player that might end up playing number 10 at Manchester United - but a typical number 10 they have not signed. Without an obvious game plan to break opponents down and problems with other options - Wayne Rooney is unhappy at United and his unimpressive performance against Chelsea might be sign of things to come, while Moyes seems loathe to use Shinji Kagawa - Fellaini could be the answer. Since Moyes has taken charge, United have averaged 64 long balls per game (second most in the league), up from 51.8 per game last season (11th most), and Fellaini's strength could prove a vital asset in holding up the ball. With his back to goal, he could bring others into play higher up the pitch.

United have struggled to get into dangerous areas with much regularity so far this season. They averaged 115.1 successful passes in the final third of the pitch last season, but that figure has dropped to 97 so far this term. Of course, their games so far this season have been tough and it isn't wholly fair to judge the team on only three games, but that Fellaini averaged more passes in the attacking third of the pitch (16.2) over the course of last season than any Manchester United player, shows that he could add to the team in that sense. Carrick (15.3), Rooney (13.5) and Cleverley (13.2) were the best United players in this regard, and given that the club's most frequent passer in the attacking third is probably their most defensive-minded midfielder shows a distinct inadequacy in the squad.

Surely, a performing Rooney behind Robin van Persie and Fellaini alongside Carrick in central midfield is the eventual goal of Moyes for this Manchester United side. But for the early stages of the season, with Rooney injured and his head turned by Chelsea's advances, Fellaini could be the answer to the attacking problems at Old Trafford.

Alistair Tweedale - follow him on Twitter here

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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