Everton FC: Why the Toffees Need Marouane Fellaini Back in Midfield
In Marouane Fellaini, Everton are lucky to possess a high-calibre player who is capable of influencing a game in either half of the field—something he's done frequently since joining the Toffees back in 2008.
In recent seasons, he's been something of a ball-winning machine, anchoring midfield, hassling and harrying attackers whilst still looking to occasionally burst forward and join up in attack.
However, since the start of this year, he's reverted back to the role he played when he began his Everton career, roaming around just behind the front man and generally making a nuisance of himself in the final third.
His contributions this season have been rightly lauded, and he clearly makes a telling impression in whichever role he's given, but where do high-flying Everton currently need his presence the most?
Without trying to detract from some scintillating performances during the past few months, something that always grabs a player attention in the Premier League is goals. It's the simplest way to gain headlines.
How many times has a goal by a defender won admiration and painted over a sloppy showing at the back, or a midfielder been woeful in the passing game yet won Man of the Match for an attention-stealing strike?
Fellaini has been imperious, but at the same time, he's contributed what a manager would expect from his side's star player playing in attack.
Appearing further forward has naturally won him much more national acclaim than his ball-winning exploits in the depths of midfield, despite both being equally as crucial. His currency is now in goals, not tackles and clean sheets.
The only reason for questioning his current position is due to the sudden fragility displayed by Everton's back four. From finishing last season as the league's third-best defence, the Toffees are back in mid-table in terms of goals conceded, having dropped far too many recent points via some softly shipped goals.
With no defensive midfielder marshalling the area in front of them, the one obvious missing component from last season's successful formula is Fellaini playing around these deeper areas.
Given his current form in attack, it is easy to forget just how well the Belgian has performed in midfield over the years. Last season, his ball-winning statistics were truly remarkable and his overall production was often elite.
Only Moussa Dembele won more tackles than Fellaini over the year, and of the season's top ten most frequent tacklers in the Premier League, nobody could trump his tackling accuracy of 85 percent. He also won possession in the midfield third 190 times, 26 ahead of his nearest challenger, Alex Song.
Back in 2009, when playing this deeper role, David Moyes famously labelled Fellaini the best midfielder in the country after a string of dominant displays. Despite his success in attack, it's important to remember the quality he can also bring here.
Switching him back permanently is not an option, as it would obviously weaken the Toffees' offence which has been flourishing from the moment the Belgian ventured further forward.
Before then, Everton were struggling to score, with only 23 goals managed in the 23 games before February last season.
With Fellaini more of an attacker, suddenly 50 goals have come in the 28 games since. The Toffees currently lead the Premier League in shots at goal, 13 ahead of Manchester City, and Fellaini is their leading scorer and averages the sixth-most shots per game in the Premier League.
Once again, the discrepancy in numbers seems to depend largely on where Everton's afro-clad Belgian features, so perhaps some flexibility with his role should be introduced, especially when one area of the Toffees' play is faltering.
The contrast of Fellaini up and down the pitch was most obvious during the FA Cup semifinal against Liverpool this year, a game where he played in both roles.
At 1-1, the Belgian was ushered into attack, and although Everton found a better supply of possession in the final third, Liverpool found it far easier to dissect the Toffees' midfield, and went on to win the game 2-1.
What's clearly needed going forward is a balance.
Where does Fellaini play best?
This season, Moyes has better creative players at his disposal than he's had for a long time, so surely the prospect of Fellaini dropping back for a few games would not blunt the offence as much as it would during the early stages of last season?
Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar and Steven Naismith are all able to perform behind a front man, and would perhaps appreciate a chance in Fellaini's positions while the Belgian helps the defence rediscover their form.
Fellaini will be a pivotal performer for Everton in whichever role he's needed, whether he's shoring up midfield or augmenting the attack. The task for Moyes is not only to coax greater consistency out of whichever area he doesn't play, but also decipher where he's needed most on a more frequent basis.
Without a clean sheet in nine games, the more Everton's defence continue to leak goals, the more confidence will erode, and presently it seems the most pressing team concern is at the back.
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