West Bromwich Albion 2 Manchester United 2, 20th October 2014.
A month on from their humiliation at the King Power Stadium, a stuttering Manchester United traveled to the Midlands to face West Brom. Cohesion was still evading those United players and, as would be the case for many more months, they were not quite on the same tactical page as their manager.
The 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion didn’t represent any kind of collective turning point but it was a personal basecamp for Marouane Fellaini, who had - up until that night - looked painfully awkward under the Old Trafford lights.
With United one-down at half-time, Van Gaal sentFellaini on at the break in place of the ineffective Ander Herrera. Within two minutes, the Belgian had thundered his side back to parity and, simultaneously, altered the trajectory of his career at the club.
Van Gaal’s side were very mechanical for much of last season and they typically produced goals from very formulaic situations. On that night in October, Fellaini was evidently introduced to facilitate that kind of approach, with his size and aerial ability being the perfect focal point for what was, at the time, an overly structured style of play.
Little surprise then that, with the second-half barely ninety seconds old, Angel Di Maria swung a hopeful cross in Fellaini’s vague direction and towards the edge of the Albion penalty-box. The Belgian, as he had done a dozen times before in Everton blue, craftily eased Jolean Lescott away from the ball and brought it down on his chest.
So far, so typical.
The memory of this moment is so vivid because it was so surprising. If the reception of the ball encompassed everything previously associated with Fellaini, then what happened next would be its counter-point: a decisive touch out of his feet and a fizzing drive high into the net from twenty yards. It’s was as spectacular as it was shocking and it was unlike anything that he’d done before in English football.
The temptation is always to romanticise goals and ascribe them a significance that they don’t really deserve. In this instance, though, there was some genuine significance. Fellaini’s strike was so violent and so powerful, that it seemed fueled by the cumulative frustration he had felt over the previous twelve months and to be a physical retaliation against those who had spent the year belittling him.
It was a very visceral moment, very real.
Players frequently posture in front of their own fans, but when he ran to the travelling Manchester United support that night, Fellaini did so with a real purpose. He was angry - a bubbling mixture of relief and rage - and he wanted them to know exactly who had scored that goal.
“This is me - this is who I really am.”
And so began an unlikely renaissance. The Manchester United midfield may now be more congested and Fellaini will likely have a tougher time finding a place this season, but nobody should forget quite how important he ultimately became last year - and that ascension began in the Midlands.
Latest for uMAXit: Beware the wrecking-ball; Don’t wish away our stadiumsTweet