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Marouane Fellaini hasn’t always been the most popular player at Manchester United.

But that could be about to change.

A look at how Marouane Fellaini is finding his place at Manchester UnitedHe has started the new Premier League season as a key contributor to Jose Mourinho’s revamped line-up, and the former Chelsea boss is clearly impressed with his early work. “With Fellaini I always have the feeling that he was not loved by the general Red people,” Mourinho told MUTV, following Fellaini’s strong opening-day performance against Bournemouth. “But, if he plays like he’s playing now, they have to love him because he’s being so important for us.”

That importance has revealed itself in a number of ways. As would be expected of the imposing Belgian, he’s taken to his role as a defensive midfielder with a blend of physicality and presence. That’s allowed him to shield the United defence beautifully, and though this is the primary reason for his selection in the team, he’s also showed an impressive amount of composure on the ball. Throw in his good-natured display in the wake of United’s late winner against Hull City, where he came to the aid of a woman who was hurt during the wild celebrations, and there’s not a lot Fellaini hasn’t brought to the table.

In fact, it’s probably fair to suggest that he looks like a new player under Mourinho. The Portuguese has given him a clearly defined role within the side, and that focus, combined with the added confidence from his new manager, has allowed him to thrive. “It’s a complete change in the relationship and I am happy with the result,” Mourinho asserted, before going onto take a bit of credit for the turnaround. “Maybe a simple phone call can make a difference to a player who was feeling he was not loved, to a player who when the [transfer] market opened everyone was saying he was leaving. Everyone was saying he wasn’t for me.

“Maybe a simple phone call then, after my presentation as Manchester United manager, changed a lot. I said to him, ‘Forget everything you read. With me you don’t leave, for sure’,” he continued. “Maybe that confidence in him was unexpected. The more organised the team is, the easier it is for players to feel confident. He has played well with Michael Carrick, he has played well with Ander Herrera, he has played well with Paul [Pogba].”

The phone call aside, Mourinho’s comment about organisation is an interesting one, as Fellaini is the guy offering it to United. From his place in the heart of midfield, he’s sitting in a deeper location, averaging 3.7 tackles per game and generally acting as an imposing screen for the Red Devils’ defence. This has been especially prevalent since the arrival of Paul Pogba, given that Fellaini has needed to cover for the record-signing’s flamboyant up field wanderings. As his tackle stats suggest, he’s doing it well too, and his 1.3 interceptions per game are also helping.

But if there’s been a standout feature of Fellaini’s defensive efforts, it’s been his ability to recover the ball in midfield. He is showing a real knack for reading the play, and that is enabling him to rush towards the ball and cut it out when the opposition tries to make a clearance. Usually, this simply ensures United can regain possession and reset on the ball, something which is obviously important. Equally, though, there have also been times when Fellaini’s ability to do this has resulted directly in goal-scoring attacks.

Take the lead-up to United’s opener against Southampton, when Fellaini mopped up a hooked clearance. He calmly brought it down on his chest, shifted the ball to evade a would-be tackler and played the ball quickly to Antonio Valencia on the right-hand side. In itself, this was a pretty standard piece of play for a defensive midfielder, but once Valencia latched onto it, United had the opening they needed. The Ecuadorian pushed the ball towards the byline, where he found Wayne Rooney running in behind. Rooney followed up by steadying himself and hitting a curled cross, which allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to leap and punch a header into the back of the net.

There was a real efficiency to the way United constructed that attack along the flank, and even though the combination between Valencia, Rooney and Ibrahimovic attracted the most attention, it’s worth noting that Fellaini’s initial intervention made everything possible. He did the job required of him. He won the ball and moved it on quickly, and it formed the foundation of a successful attacking incursion. He would continue to do this throughout the course of the match, and it’s probably for this reason that Mourinho has picked him ahead of the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera.

Fellaini has also been both unfussy and efficient in possession, completing his 72.3 passes per game – the fourth highest figure across the Premier League this season – with a 90.8% accuracy rating. In fact, in the most recent round of league fixtures, Fellaini completed 83 passes, a division-wide high. When you add this kind of distribution to the defensive efforts for which Fellaini is already known, there is no doubt that Mourinho has found a player capable of anchoring his midfield unit.

There could be a problem, however. After praising the Belgian for being a “special guy for us in our defensive work,” Mourinho revealed that Fellaini had hurt himself. “He has an injury in his back,” the coach said. “It’s not good.” It’s not entirely clear whether this will keep the ex-Everton man out, but given that he featured for his national team during the international break, it doesn’t look like he’ll spend too much, if any, time on the sidelines.

Fellaini certainly wouldn’t welcome any disruptions after such a strong start to the season, and as it stands, he is clearly Mourinho’s preference for the defensive midfield role. His rise might have come as something of a surprise to United fans, but Fellaini is on track to change things for the better. He’ll be hoping his unremarkable spell with the Manchester-based club is now over, and with momentum behind him, there is no reason why the big Belgian can’t surge ahead from this point on.

Originally published at licencetoroam.net

Post written by Will Stratmann, Twitter: @willstratmann
for Licence to Roam, Blog: licencetoroam.net, Twitter: @licencetoroam

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