David Moyes has confronted the dipping form of Marouane Fellaini, suggesting it may take time for the Manchester United midfielder to show his worth at Old Trafford.
The Scottish manager spoke honestly in the lead-up to the Red Devils' Premier League clash with Everton and defended the Belgian's performances since joining the club in a £27.5 million summer deal, per David McDonnell of the Daily Mirror:
He's not had the best of starts, but this is a difficult club to join and settle in right away.
It's a new manager as well, so from that point of view, he can take time to settle in. But he's a good player and has been for a few years at this level, and I have no doubt he'll go on to prove it with this club.
Fellaini is likely to play a starting role in United's game against the Toffees, an encounter which sees both the player and his manager take on their former team for the first time since switching allegiances.
Although Moyes is largely credited with turning the previously struggling Merseyside club into a regular top-10 force, the away support is expected to jeer its former hero.
Moyes' reputation has dwindled among Everton fans since his move, largely due to the "derisory and insulting" joint bid he launched for Fellaini and Leighton Baines during the last transfer window, per Phil McNulty of BBC Sport.
While Moyes attempted to lure both stars with a combined offer of £28 million, a disappointing run of rejections in the transfer window—which saw him miss out on players such as Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera and Sami Khedira, per David Kent of the Daily Mail—eventually led to purchasing Fellaini for marginally less than £28 million in a deadline-day panic buy.
Moyes realises his approach may have been ill-advised and suggested things should have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight, per McDonnell's report:
"I totally understand that and have no qualms about it at all," said Moyes. "Things could maybe have been done a bit differently, but that's football."
The United boss also left in less-than-ideal circumstances, running down his contract so Everton received no compensation for his departure. Moyes defended that scenario:
I had a contract and was deciding what my future was going to be at Everton and how we were going to go forward at Everton.
In the meantime, four or five weeks before the end of the season, I got a call from Sir Alex. If I hadn't received that call, I'm sure I'd still be working with Bill Kenwright as manager of Everton.
In fairness to Moyes, managers and players are often accused of showing a lack of loyalty when they leave clubs mid-contract, so the timing of his exit should not be criticised. United's attempt to loot Everton for Fellaini and Baines, however, will be less acceptable to fans of the Merseyside club.
Fellaini is expected to start the clash in central midfield. United are without the injured Michael Carrick and have Phil Jones suspended after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Tottenham.
The Belgian's constant dawdling in possession and untidy challenges have disappointed this campaign—perhaps best summed up by his red card in the Champions League tie with Real Sociedad. He needs a run of form to build the supporters' confidence, something the 26-year-old will hope to start against his old teammates.
A win for United would see the struggling club leapfrog Everton by one point. Currently nine points off Arsenal at the top, a second home loss of the season would all but end the Premier League champions' hopes of retaining their title in the Scot's debut campaign.
United have absolutely no room to slip up, but considering Everton have lost just one game all season, the hosts' 12-game unbeaten run will be firmly put to the test.