Of course, it would be ridiculous to condemn a player after just over two months with his new team. It has, though, been a miserable week for the Belgian. There were three separate incidents that illustrate his difficult start in the red of Man United.
First, he was dismissed against Real Sociedad following a series of clumsy challenges. It was an all-around disappointing display from Fellaini, who failed to assert any sense of control on the game.
Second, he started on the bench against Arsenal in a game where his physicality would have surely been the perfect antidote to Arsenal’s attacking verve.
And finally, when Phil Jones replaced the injured Nemanja Vidic in defence, David Moyes opted to send on Tom Cleverley instead of Fellaini in midfield.
Moyes’ decisions in that Arsenal game spoke volumes.
Let’s get it straight: Manchester United’s midfield troubles have been well-known for some time now. So, for the marquee signing of the summer to be snubbed in the season’s biggest game to date, it’s clear that those troubles still exist. Expect Moyes to delve into the transfer market in January, or next summer, in order to rectify the problem.
All of the above points to one concluding point: Fellaini doesn’t have the luxury of time at Man United. And here’s why…
The Next Transfer Windows
January will be a telling month in the future of Fellaini’s career at Manchester United.
Should Moyes opt to swoop for Ander Herrera, Ilkay Gundogan or even Sami Khedira, it would be difficult to envisage Fellaini making good on his lofty price tag.
Fellaini’s arrival on the final day of this summer’s transfer window was not met with universal joy among United fans. Moyes chose not to activate a clause in the Belgian’s contract midway through the summer, but instead signed him with just hours to spare. It was a disappointing signing.
And so, when the next transfer window comes around, there’s really only one position that Moyes needs to strengthen—the same position that he splashed out £27.5 million for only months ago.
There Are Better Options Than Fellaini Right Now
The starting lineup against Arsenal, and the substitutions that followed, highlighted that Moyes has better options in midfield than Fellaini.
Jones and Cleverley are better-suited to that midfield role, alongside Michael Carrick.
Jones was monstrous in the middle against Arsenal, and Cleverly was combative. Fellaini was frozen out on the bench. It’s difficult to assess Fellaini’s performances because many of them have been so nondescript. He hasn’t necessarily done a lot wrong; he just hasn’t done a great deal right.
That’s been reflected in Moyes’ early assessment of the Belgian’s form, per the Manchester Evening News:
I didn’t think Marouane started slowly but when I had watched him playing I thought he looked a little bit behind. We had to put him in a bit earlier than I’d have liked. My plan was to put him in much slower and bring him on and give him a chance to settle in but we put him in early because we needed it and I didn’t think he was quite ready.
It’s not the most glowing review from Moyes, but he’s right. Fellaini has looked off the pace, and that’s why there are better options than him right now.
Man United’s Midfield Problems Still Exist
So far, Fellaini has prompted more questions than answers regarding United’s now notorious midfield problems.
Man United operate a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 hybrid, with the two central midfielders responsible for breaking up opponents’ play, as well as initiating their own team’s attacks. Carrick performs this role superbly well, shielding the back four and distributing the ball with consummate ease.
Can Marouane Fellaini perform the same role? No.
In his short time at Manchester United, the most worrying aspect of Fellaini’s play has been the frequency with which he concedes possession. His passing has been dire. Yes, his presence has added some much-needed steel at times, but to what effect? United were swamped in midfield by Manchester City in the derby, and Fellaini was dominated by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
The early signs are that Fellaini isn’t the best man to perform the very role he was bought to fulfill. If he doesn’t turn things around quickly, it’s very difficult to picture a United midfield with Fellaini at the heart of it.
It goes without saying that the Belgian has a future at Manchester United.
However, the hard fact is this: Manchester United’s best starting lineup doesn’t involve Fellaini now, or in the near future.
He isn’t the solution to United’s midfield woes, not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean he doesn't have a role. His physicality and aerial presence in either box will prove to be valuable assets.
Really, it comes down to how valuable those assets will be to a club that is renowned for playing free-flowing football. Because Man United’s best formation involves a two-man midfield, with Wayne Rooney slightly further ahead, those two men must be technically adept.
Michael Carrick is, but Marouane Fellaini isn’t.
That is why, in the long-term, he won’t be the answer to Man United’s midfield problems. Don’t be surprised if and when David Moyes signs that elusive midfield maestro to bolster that midfield.