Why Moyes' returning raid for Fellaini makes perfect sense
So Manchester United’s deadline-day business was an absolute train wreck. But David Moyes is doubtlessly as livid as the millions of United fans across the world who were expecting a bare minimum of two central midfielders to be signed this summer.
It seems harsh to point the finger at the former Everton boss when transfer deals are often dealt with at a higher level, but it’s the Scot who’ll be feeling the heat as he attempts to lead his new side back to the top of English football. To do that he’ll be hoping Monday’s sole signing, the £27.5m Marouane Fellaini, can produce with the regularity he achieved at Everton.
Quite what the champions were doing paying £4.5m over the Belgian’s expired buy-out clause is anybody’s guess, but cast that thought aside for one moment. It’s easy to discount Fellaini as an easy option for Moyes, but let’s not forget he has been one of the Premier League’s best midfielders for two years running.
Goals have flowed frequently for Fellaini – he scored 11 last season – while the hustle-bustle playing style that earned him widespread popularity on Merseyside will add much-needed bite to United’s lightweight midfield.
If Manchester United fans cast their minds back to the first game of last season they’ll remember the 25-year-old’s monstrous display for the Toffees at Goodison, in which the Belgian utterly dominated Sir Alex Ferguson’s stunned marauders.
On a night where Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley failed to exert any real influence alongside new boy Shinji Kagawa, Fellaini ruled the roost. He won 9 of his 14 aerial duels (to Nemanja Vidic’s 6 of 11) – 5 in the box – and sealed victory with a typical winner.
It’s hard to believe the 25-year-old has spent five full seasons in the Premier League – and his sixth will be by far his biggest yet.
Fergie may have stubbornly ignored pleas for a new man in midfield but Moyes simply couldn’t. With Scholes retired, Darren Fletcher battling illness and Tom Cleverley and Anderson struggling to impress, there was no alternative.
Moyes knew what he was getting, having already spent Everton's club record of £15 million on Fellaini in 2008, and the Belgian enforcer was worth the investment.
Fellaini is a rare breed. Though a true all-rounder with a taste for the target, he isn’t cut from the same cloth as Frank Lampard, nor, with last season’s pass completion rate of just 78%, is he an orchestral Scholes.
Instead, Fellaini adds a constant aerial presence, like Tim Cahill before him - and unlike the Australian's knack of well-timed runs onto crosses, the Belgian's intimidating 6ft 4in frame means timing is not necessarily of the essence. Five of last season’s 11 goals came via his prized nut, though a wider-reaching repertoire – somehow transforming a hopeful punt upfield into a goal against Fulham in particular – has also proved devastating.
Only one goal, a well-placed finish against Arsenal, came from outside the box. Against Aston Villa last season Karim El Ahmadi was hopelessly outclassed in Fellaini’s area of the pitch, and couldn’t stop his tormentor netting twice in the 3-3 draw.
At the end of last season, FourFourTwo noted the champions’ openness to lumping it long when required last season (35% of their assists came from outside the area) – and that’s a whole lot of action suited to this towering talisman.
Sunday’s disappointing defeat to Liverpool an Anfield saw Moyes’ men persist with ineffectual wing play (which proved so valuable with Leighton Baines at Everton) as just 6 of their 32 crosses found a visiting shirt. Now United have a man who can convert several of those red attempts blue.
Baines was Fellaini’s perfect foil having created the most chances in Europe last season (116), but there was no sign of a deadline-day reunion for Moyes’ favourite son.
If United fans can move past the champions’ absurdly incompetent dealings, eventually they’re likely to see their new man play a key role behind Robin van Persie – and it’s very possible the Dutchman could thrive off the service of his new team-mate.
He’s not Cesc Fabregas, nor is he anything like Ander Herrera, but United’s battering-ram Belgian is at least close to what they’ve needed for so long.