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How Marouane Fellaini has become an important player at Manchester United

Jake Jackman




Marouane Fellaini has been widely criticised during his spell at Manchester United, but he has found his niche under Jose Mourinho and delivered another impressive display against Crystal Palace. The Belgian midfielder scored twice as the team continued their excellent start to the season with another victory.

It was a superb showing from the 29-year-old across all areas of the pitch. His aerial presence caused real problems for Crystal Palace, leading to two goals for him. These gave United a dominant lead in the match and put the result beyond doubt with plenty of time left to spare. In addition to his two goals, he won three aerial duels and completed seven ball recoveries.

Since he joined United, his passing has been seen as a weak point in his game, but he ended Saturday’s match with a 90% pass success rate from 52 passes, including one key pass. The Belgian has become a lot more intelligent in possession and knows what his limits. He isn’t going to be a player that cuts open defences often, which is why he often opts for the simple pass to team-mate. This has been an encouraging part of his own development during the last 12 months.

There was a time when United fans feared the worst when they saw Fellaini’s name on the team-sheet and that was somewhat unfair. It would be wrong to suggest there aren’t limitations to his game, but if he is utilised correctly, he can thrive at the highest level. Although he had worked with him at Everton, David Moyes struggled to get the best out of him, while Louis van Gaal’s system didn’t play to the midfielder’s strengths.

There has been a rebirth under Jose Mourinho and he is now proving himself as being good enough for a team challenging for the title. The midfielder wouldn’t be able to fit into all of the top-six teams, as he can only thrive in a system that is geared to his strengths. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp would struggle to use the Belgian international effectively as their styles of play suit certain types of players.

However, Mourinho is pragmatic and is very good at utilising what he has at his disposal. There are some that doubt whether the United boss remains one of the best in the world, but his management of the Belgian midfielder is a reminder of the tactical mind that he possesses. He knows how to win football matches and he realises the worth of having a tactical weapon like Fellaini.

Why was he viewed as a bad player for Manchester United?

The Belgian midfielder arrived at Old Trafford in 2013 for a fee of £27.5 million and was the only major addition of David Moyes’ first transfer window as manager. It was a huge show of faith from the Scotsman as he wanted Fellaini to follow him from Everton and he admitted afterwards that the lack of other additions made it difficult for the player in an interview with the Express:

“It was a big move for him, it was a big move following me and being the only signing made it even more difficult,”

“We wanted to bring in other players and the recruitment didn’t work the way we wanted it to and, ideally, we wouldn’t have made Fellaini our one and only signing if we could have helped it.”

It is clear that Moyes was a big fan of Fellaini and although the former Everton manager failed at Old Trafford, the Belgian midfielder will forever be thankful for his contribution to his career. The 29-year-old wasn’t helped by his former manager’s failure as he was tarred with the same brush, which was unfair at the time.

United had an ageing squad that lacked world class quality and were performing above themselves under Sir Alex Ferguson. In reality, they needed a complete overhaul during that summer, but only Fallini arrived. During his first season, he featured 16 times in the Premier League and was underwhelming for a lot of those performances.

He was expected to play as a ball-winning midfielder. Although he is good at regaining possession, he doesn’t have the mobility to operate as a destroyer in the middle of the park. Fellaini needs to play alongside the right player to thrive and that is why he wasn’t great over the course of his first campaign as a United player.

Under Louis van Gaal, he did improve and deliver some good performances. At one point, the Dutchman labelled the midfielder as undroppable. However, there was inconsistency to his game and the slow possession style that the team were playing didn’t suit him. There were times when Fellaini looked to be clumsy when the team were out of possession and discipline was an issue.

What has changed?

Fellaini is only effective when the overall team system suits him and there are fewer who are better at setting up a team than Jose Mourinho. The midfielder is a tactical weapon and a great option to have, especially in big matches. A lot of top teams look to play a high-pressing style and Fellaini is a great way to counter such a system.

His aerial ability means that he can be relied on to win the majority of long balls and United have often opted to play long-balls to bypass a pressing team. The array of mobile midfielders then try to win the second balls and counter with pace. Fellaini is at his best when he is given license to get into advanced positions. Mourinho has noted this and the midfielder’s growing influence is an encouraging sign for their title chances.

They aren’t going to out pass Manchester City, but they can beat them and Mourinho sees Fellaini as a crucial part of his plans. Fellaini may not have been a player that a lot of United fans wanted to have as part of the squad, but he is now proving his worth and has a massive role to play over the coming campaign.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Leicester City

West Ham and Leicester should pounce for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri



Photo: Getty Images.

One player certain to be on the move this summer is Stoke City midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who will put an end to an unhappy spell at the bet365 Stadium, but could still stay in the Premier League to West Ham or Leicester.

Sky Bet offer odds as low as 1/10 that Shaqiri will depart this summer, with West Ham the leading Premier League club in the betting at 8/1 and Leicester City not far behind at 10/1.

That’s not to say that a stay in England is certain, particularly given that the two Milan clubs are favourites with Inter at 6/1 and AC Milan at 13/2, with Lyon also in the running at 8/1 level with the Hammers.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The winger has not hidden his disappointment with the team’s struggles this season and the Potters now face an uphill battle if they are to avoid relegation from the top flight.

The Swiss international will not entertain the idea of playing second tier football after a decorated career has previously seen him play for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Having failed to live up to expectations since Mark Hughes brought him to England in 2015, he may be keen to make the move abroad, but with finances likely to be more attractive to remain in the Premier League he may not rule out such a move.

Leicester could be forced to sign a replacement for Riyahd Mahrez whilst West Ham will also be looking for options out wide when Joao Mario’s loan spell comes to an end.

His pace, power and strength could catch the eye of both sides but they will have their work cut out to convince him to remain in England this summer.

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Liverpool fans will love who are favourites to sign Mario Balotelli



Mario Balotelli
Photo: Getty Images.

Mario Balotelli is not a man who conjures up fond memories for Liverpool fans, but that could all be about to change if the betting is accurate in forecasting where he could move if he leaves OGC Nice this summer with one Premier League side leading the race to bring him back to England.

Whilst Serie A sides are the frontrunners in the betting to sign Mario Balotelli, there are also several English clubs in the mix, based on odds offered by Sky Bet. Favourites are the side that Liverpool fans would both find hilarious and dread in equal measure: Everton.

Odds on the controversial Italian moving to Goodison Park this summer are as low as 8/1, whilst West Ham are also in the running at 12/1.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The centre forward picked up more yellow cards, seven, than goals, four, during his time on Merseyside but has scored 39 goals in 61 games for his new club in France and insists he’s a new, mature man.

Italy still seems his most likely destination with Napoli and Juventus leading the odds, but a move to Everton would give Balotelli the chance to either redeem himself with Liverpool fans by failing as much as he did at Anfield, or rebuild his reputation in the country where he made his name with Manchester City.

The Toffees are desperate to add firepower up-front, but having been so disappointed by their business last summer it is hard to see how taking a gamble on a player as volatile as Balotelli would be a wise move.

That said, they know that the quality is clearly there within the player and may have the same hope as Brendan Rodgers did when he signed Balotelli for Liverpool, that they can bring him in cheap, get the best out of him and sell him on for a profit.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke



Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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