Why Michael Carrick's Injury Is an Opportunity for Marouane Fellaini at United

Greg JohnsonSpecial to Bleacher ReportNovember 13, 2013

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 05:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United at Estadio Anoeta on November 5, 2013 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

If there were one player—Robin van Persie aside—whom Manchester United fans were hoping would make it to January without an injury, it would be Michael Carrick.

When it comes to his niche in the United squad, he is currently all too unique with no direct back-up for his role as the midfield recycler of possession.

Yet as reported by Ben Hibbs on the club's official website, the England international has been ruled out for between four and six weeks with his return estimated to fall somewhere within the intensely congested and relentless Christmas period.

With the late-December pitches set to be hardened with scant time for recovery and recuperation amid unforgiving conditions, the busy festive period will be far from ideal for nursing such a key player back to full fitness.

And that's what Carrick is at present for David Moyes, a key player, especially after the club's botched summer transfer business.

Perhaps aware of the lack of cover for United's chief ball-retainer, the new manager had wanted to bring in a total of three new midfielders to refit and reinforce the shallowest part of his inherited squad, according to Jamie Jackson of The Irish Times.

Three would have been the magic number, with a player signed to cover Carrick as the team's deep-lying passing hub and interceptor, and an upgrade on the more mobile Tom Cleverley to offer more of a sense of purpose to the arrival of Marouane Fellaini.

For better or for worse, no one else can quite cover what Carrick does for United.
For better or for worse, no one else can quite cover what Carrick does for United.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Purchased on the final day of the season from Everton for a reported £27.5 million, according to David McDonnell of the Daily Mirror, the Belgian looked like an expensive disappointment following the earlier pursuits of Thiago and Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and Real Madrid's Sami Khedira.

That said, he didn't appear to be an afterthought as such. Instead, there was a sense that his arrival was intended to fit into a greater midfield redesign alongside a now-composed ball hog and a fresh, dynamic and robust playmaker.

Fellaini looked futile as a box-to-box midfielder against Manchester City.
Fellaini looked futile as a box-to-box midfielder against Manchester City.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Due to his rather lonely entrance, Fellaini's appearances so far this season have looked like the result of an unplanned compromise rather than a misguided yet complete revamp by Moyes.

Alongside Carrick, the pair's lack of pace and agility has been exposed time and time again, while the poverty of other options has seen the physically imposing ball-winner tasked with more generalist roles that he has struggled to live up to.

Marauding through the middle of the field at United requires more than his midfield raids at Everton ever did, with his new club demanding a greater level of skill, poise and tidiness from whoever decides to drive forward with the ball.

Often the angles and margins of error are tighter, with the requests of his teammates in Manchester harder to complete at speed and without space.

However, with Carrick now sidelined, Fellaini may finally be allowed to get on with doing what he does best: patrolling the air for high balls, breaking up play and posing an awkward and difficult problem for opponents to overcome in front of the back four.

Forget the sometimes spectacular feats of physical prowess in the box you may remember from his time at Everton. Fellaini is ready-made to be Old Trafford's domineering anchor man.

Replacing rather than pairing up with Carrick as United's deepest lying midfielder should allow the Belgian to make the most of his gifts alongside the more energetic Cleverley and Phil Jones, who can cover for his sluggishness in a way that was beyond his more regular and ponderous collaborator.

Fellaini has the best pass completion percentage at #MUFC (88.6%) in Prem Lge so injury to Carrick (86.4%) is a chance to prove himself.

— Dom Raynor (@domraynorESPN) November 13, 2013

His percentage of successful passing attempts support the idea that he could shine as Carrick's defensive replacement, with risky deliveries cut to a minimum and safety balls made a priority, even if an increase in sideways passes would annoy those who demand through balls at every opportunity.

It's unlikely that he would play the same role in the same manner as his injured colleague, but he could fulfil a similar function within Moyes' system.

Keeping United's midfield secure until reinforcements can be summoned in January could be the making of Fellaini at the club, with too many of his supporters having been guilty so far of encouraging him to do too much, while his critics have derided any suggestions that he can be more than a wrecking ball.

Retooling him to take on a more mundane yet vital job at the base of the midfield would be the perfect rejoinder to those who have written him off as a top-four asset and a helpful illustration of his best abilities to those who wish him well.

Fellaini will never be the next Bryan Robson, Roy Keane or Owen Hargreaves, but he can be a player whom United need in order to survive the early teething problems of the post-Ferguson transitional era.

Letting him get on with showcasing his strengths rather than stretching his skills to the breaking point will allow him to dig deep and work hard to carry the midfield dogs work while Carrick rests up for the run-in.

The next two months are an excellent opportunity for Fellaini the destroyer and protector to prove his worth, and a crunch period through which United, the reigning Premier League champions, must hold their nerve.