As a United fan, I have been hoping for the last two or three years that we would sign a central midfielder who can really compliment Michael Carrick at the heart of the team. Over that time, we were linked to many names to ‘replace Paul Scholes’ if you like, but no big signing materialised. Now David Moyes has had his chance and has gone for a player he obviously knows and trusts, in Marouane Fellaini.
At Everton under Moyes, Fellaini played as an attacking midfielder, often playing just off the striker, and there were a lot of diagonals played at him to control and lay off. In that role he scored a fair amount and generally made a nuisance of himself to the opposition, but there were question marks over whether he could, would or should, have that role at United, where the long aerial ball is not appreciated. The early signs, from the player and the manager, certainly seem to indicate that he will have a different role with the Champions.
From his first press conference as a Manchester United player, the Belgian international expressed his idea to be seen in a different light, to change his style of play. He wants to be played in a deeper role, perhaps alongside Carrick rather than in front of him, where he can use his physical attributes, together with his reading of the game and passing ability, to protect the back four and become more of a destructive holding midfielder.
To me, this sounds like something him and Moyes have spoken about, and seems to indicate a change in system from the previous Manchester United team of 4-4-2 or 1 holding midfielder. I think Moyes will utilise a 4-2-3-1 formation, more in-line with the common formation used in leagues across Europe. In this formation, Fellaini and Carrick will form the holding two, with Fellaini filling a role similar to Schweinsteiger at Bayern, or Yaya Toure at Man City. In that role, Fellaini’s main job will be to disrupt the attacks of the opposition using his size and strength to break up attacks and give the ball to Carrick, who will implement the attacks for United.
This should allow United to retain control of the ball more often and help to improve the side defensively, something which has been lacking for the last couple of seasons. In this role, as long as he has the discipline, I can see Fellaini flourishing and really providing a good base for United’s more attack-minded players to press the opposition. He also adds a lot defensively from set pieces, and allows a good option if we are chasing a game, as he can push up and provide a different option, moving into the role we saw from him at Everton.
All in all, the signing of Fellaini could actually prove to be exactly what United need, allowing Carrick to pass the ball more freely and creating more opportunities going forward at the same time. The combination of those two at central midfield, with Rooney or an attacking midfielder also dropping in, makes what was United’s weakest position, suddenly look like one of the strongest in Europe. An astute signing from Moyes.