Marouane Fellaini: The Albatross Around Moyes' Neck

"The players have looked comfortable at this level," said David Moyes before United's game against Bayern. Which is true, apart from the Belgian in midfield that he signed...

Last Updated: 02/04/14 at 12:54 Post Comment

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"Who the f**k is Man United," chorused the horde of Bayern Munich fans squeezed into a tiny corner of Old Trafford. Given the hosts' current identity crisis in a season of new nadirs, it's doubtful even they would know the answer.

This was another night of change in United's line-up, with Moyes continuing his appropriation of Claudio Ranieri's 'tinkerman' nickname. Shinji Kagawa, Ashley Young and Darren Fletcher joined enforced absentees Juan Mata and Rafael in departing the starting XI that beat Aston Villa at the weekend, with Marouane Fellaini adopting a role similar to the one he fulfilled under Moyes at Everton.

Following Tim Cahill's move to New York Red Bulls in summer 2012, Fellaini shone in an attacking position at Goodison, scoring 11 goals in 31 Premier League appearances last season - only one fewer than Wayne Rooney. Tuesday evening offered him a chance to re-audition for his part in United's midfield, but it was an opportunity missed in the champions' battling 1-1 draw.

The first minute offered promise. As Bayern tried to settle into their passing carousel, somehow refined even further under Pep Guardiola, Fellaini's fierce pressing unnerved David Alaba high on the right. It was a bright start, but full of false hope. Moyes may have written that his players have looked "comfortable" at this level in his programme notes, but Fellaini was the one proved to be out of his depth on a frustrating evening.

It was the same in United's drab 0-0 draw away to Real Sociedad in the group stage. Watching from the stands that night, it was difficult to decipher exactly what Fellaini offers to a team that won the title last year. Providing little in a subdued attacking performance, the Belgian was also rarely required in a defensive capacity, and yet earned a late red card in what was only his eighth appearance for his new club. The moment the first booking arrived, it seemed inevitable that the second would follow. A forearm smash on Pablo Zabaleta in last week's Manchester derby emphasised that this is not a player who knows how to keep his cool.

Fellaini's lack of composure on Tuesday provided the starkest contrast between the two teams. While Bayern's midfield could find time and space in a thimble, Moyes' £27.5m summer signing bounded around like a lost puppy. After he repeatedly lost possession in the first half - even losing out to Alaba in the air at one point - sarcastic cheers rang around Old Trafford when Fellaini finally performed an error-free action, heading the ball to safety from one of the visitors' many crosses.

Considering the amount United invested in Fellaini, it is not unreasonable to have expected more in his contribution so far at Old Trafford. Against Bayern, he was the third most expensive player on the pitch, and yet fans were calling for his substitution as early as the half-hour mark. "It's like a bad joke," remarked one, as Fellaini once again lost possession to leave the hosts vulnerable to a counter-attack.

The defining moment in the Belgian's performance came only eight minutes after Nemanja Vidic headed United into the lead. As Bayern broke through Rafinha down the right, Fellaini watched as the ball floated on to the head of Mario Mandzukic. What he should have been doing was picking up Schweinsteiger on the edge of the area, but the German had the final say in a battle he dominated throughout the evening.

United deserve praise for a resilient display in difficult circumstances against a superior opponent, and Moyes will have been relieved to see that the only plane on Tuesday was one made of paper, arrowed at Manuel Neuer as he delayed taking a last-minute goal-kick. However, if the manager is to prove that he deserves a war chest to take United forward next season, he is going to need a great deal more from his solitary signing last summer.

Until now, the only impression Fellaini has made is the one he left in Zabaleta's face. But his and Moyes' futures are inextricably linked and, at the moment, he is a symbol of United dropping to a level beneath that required to advocate more time for his beleaguered manager.

Matt Stanger - he's on Twitter.

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