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Marouane Fellaini: From Liability to Game Changer

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Fellaini was once a laughing stock, but Mourinho has found a way to weaponize his awkwardness.

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Marouane Fellaini has arguably been the most improved player under José Mourinho since Mourinho became manager at Manchester United. At one point in Fellaini’s career, nothing but cringing would happen whenever he would come onto the pitch. Clumsy, inefficient, and poor technical ability were just a few things on his résumé that made United fans nervous when he played. However, Mourinho has somehow made Fellaini a more usable player. Fellaini is still the most awkward player in all of world football, but he has a few tricks up his sleeve that actually make Manchester United better.

One of Fellaini’s tasks is being a target man in the middle of the pitch. Being able to create hold up play in order to get into the final third is becoming somewhat of a specialty for him. He is able to control the ball in the middle of the pack and make key passes into the final third to more attacking players so they can create opportunities. Let’s face it, Fellaini is still not technically gifted enough to make runs with the ball and does not really have the killer vision to thread balls through the defense, but he does excel at creating space in the middle and making quick passes to other players around him.

Another aspect of his gameplay is his aerial presence. According to Squawka.com, Fellaini won around 75% of his aerial duels last season, which is the highest win percentage among all midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. Fellaini is fearless when trying to get the ball out of the air, which makes him very efficient in his aerial duels. Fellaini has used this aerial ability as a midfield target man, but some of his most influential contributions have been in the final third. There have been countless times where Fellaini has won an aerial duel to drop the ball at the feet of a United attacker who has been able to put it away for a goal. Fellaini is one of the most dominant players in the air and defenses can rarely stop him.

Manchester United v Real Salt Lake Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Fellaini is a game changer for United simply because he is so awkward to play against. Fellaini makes most of his appearances coming off the bench and has only been used this season to close games out. Mourinho trusts him to come in when the game is winding down because no team ever has a game plan for him.

Fellaini has a good work rate, a big body, and always seems to get in people’s way, which make him the perfect closer. However, this is a double-edged sword. Fellaini is often able to disrupt the game, but he does so for both sides. There are times when he enters the game and ruins attacks for United and the opposition rather than just the opposing team. This is an okay trait when United is winning, but there are times when United is trying to score and Fellaini becomes a hindrance. His presence can either be crucial to getting us a goal, like it was against Real Madrid in the Super Cup, or he can come on and ruin the momentum completely. Either way, his role as disruptor is constant.

Marouane Fellaini is still a liability. There are still a plethora of United supporters that sigh and cringe when he comes onto the pitch due to his clumsiness and poor decision making. However, one cannot deny that under Mourinho, Fellaini has found good form on occasion. He may not be what many people think is Manchester United quality, but he is a game changer and José is starting to harness his disruptive potential perfectly.