With a four-one win over Aston Villa and a draw with the reigning European champions to their name, Manchester United have had one of the better weeks of their season. The struggles endured by David Moyes have been so continuous though, that the flow of criticism towards him and his side is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
United have been overly-structured, negative, ineffective and periodically defensively-porous; each criticism has an accompanying article online and almost every aspect of Moyes’ management has been attacked with a violently negative slant.
No topic has provoked more derision than the signing of Marouane Fellaini, though, and even in this most positive of weeks he’s still the side’s pinata; the Belgian’s clunky style has not translated well to Old Trafford and that has made him a very easy target.
‘Transition’ is a term that has been used frequently in relation to Manchester United and while that has come to be a blanket term for all the problems faced by David Moyes, it is particularly relevant in Fellaini’s case.
When you watch him play, you’re not really seeing a Manchester United player - you’re seeing an Everton player wearing a Manchester United shirt. Fellaini’s physicality and roughhousing style makes him a very useful Premier League player, but his degree of value depends heavily on how he’s used and what exists around him. Think back to his time at Goodison Park and consider how he was deployed: principally as a target for long, aerial passes from the defensive-third, and a pivot around which Everton’s more creative players revolved.
Make no mistake, within that situation Marouane Fellaini was very valuable indeed.
The problem now, though, is that his attributes have been transplanted into a completely different football team. There are variables relating to his confidence, but generally speaking he is the same player - just one who happens to be operating within a completely unsuitable context. Has Manchester United’s style changed to accommodate him? Has a role been created for him? Or has he just been put into the side and expected to immediately replicate his Everton form?
It’s dangerous to write this kind of article, because invariably you sound like an apologist for a player’s poor form. That’s not the intention. Fellaini is certainly operating at a level below his capability, but the explanations for that need to be diversified: this isn’t just about the player, it’s also about his environment. At Everton, not only was the side essentially styled and built around him, but he’d spent years developing intuitive understandings with his teammates - now, not only is he just a cog in a system, but the personnel around all have completely different tendencies.
To a certain extent that’s true for all new signings, but it’s a much more pronounced problem for those who have previously been focal points - there’s a big difference between having to try to influence the play and having the play aimed towards you. It’s night and day.
None of this is to say that Fellaini will eventually fully justify his transfer-fee and become a roaring success at Old Trafford, but there has to be more appreciation of the obstacles that he’s facing - and continues to face - in his first season at Manchester United.
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