With the increasing possibility that Manchester United will sign Marouane Fellaini this summer, it's a matter of much debate how exactly he'll be used. The obvious move is to place him next to Michael Carrick in United's midfield, but how can Fellaini fit this role?
Everton used to use Fellaini deeper, but after the decline and departure of Tim Cahill, increqsingly used him as a replacement for that role, offering an aerial threat from deep. Sometimes, this worked - the combination of a powerful presence in the air and a player making a run from outside the area is very, very difficult to defend against - and frequently when Fellaini was thrust up front previously disciplined defences lost control in trying to deal with him. United certainly suffered in the infamous 3-3 that cost us the title.
Fellaini does have a very good touch, but his composure is suspect and he's clumsy. That's a very bizarre combination, and it seems to mean that Fellaini pretty much creates chaos around him for both teams when he plays in an advanced role. Working out how best to use this to a team's advantage is how to get the best out of him.
Here he is last year, however, playing an advanced role against United. The signs aren't encouraging after an initial promising spell before United begin paying him attention - even when he has support, Fellaini frequently fails to find teammates, and generally gets outsmarted by United's defensive set-up. The long balls don't work because everything around him is completely disorganised, but United's more numerous, alert and athletic defenders seem a lot better equipped to deal with it than Everton's attackers.
The unpredictability Fellaini creates means that the Toffees' forwards often look like they have no idea what they're doing, and although United end up stretched and have to alter their positioning, they deal with the threat comfortably. Fellaini's touches, flicks, and creative passes simply aren't up to the job. He does score from a set-piece, but Everton's all-round play is pretty aimless. In the end, that suited his side as they won a victory against a superior outfit - but can this really be of use to a team like United?
By contrast, here's Fellaini against Arsenal. He's playing a much deeper role here, and he fits into it far better. Generally, the Gunners find it very difficult to make any progress through the middle, and he also manages to make some intelligent and powerful runs forward. Everton simply look a far more composed, less desperate team. He does still cause a bit of confusion for both teams, but this will probably complement a partnership with Michael Carrick nicely.
Chaos can be all well and good - and I doubt if we do sign Fellaini we'll be spared the prospect of seeing him hurled up front while chasing a game late on - but it's generally something better for smaller teams. This is why Stokeball isn't employed at the highest level - the more confusion and random elements you introduce into a game, the more unpredictable the result becomes - in other words, it favours the side less likely to win.
It's a simple idea. If Manchester United play Barnsley on a pristine pitch in perfect conditions, and both sides do everything to the best of their ability, Manchester United will win 99 times out of 100. If they both play blindfolded on a ploughed field, there's a lot more potential for it to go either way. United don't need Fellaini to be a huge goal threat just because he can - he has plenty of other qualities and United aren't lacking for goalscorers. Playing deeper, Fellaini can offer a much more composed game - and for a club like United, it suits them a lot better than chaos.