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Will things ever go right for Marouane Fellaini at Manchester United? Even after arguably the Red Devils' most impressive display (or least embarrassing, depending on your stance) of the season in a spirited 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, the big Belgium international still came under heavy fire for a display largely devoid of either composure or dominance when up against Pep Guardiola's men.
In the biggest test of his Old Trafford career to date, the £27.5 million former Everton battering ram failed to impose himself in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Die Roten; that in itself is no crime given their astounding record this season, yet Fellaini also failed in the few areas that fans - and manager David Moyes in particular - would expect him to excel.
The 26-year-old only won one of seven headed duels - or 14 percent, if you prefer the cold percentiles - with one attempted header so haphazard in its direction that 'Total Football' disciple Guardiola must have winced for his opposite number.
Fellaini won neither of his two attempted tackles, and despite making five defensive actions, his passing accuracy of 75% from 32 attempted passes simply has no place against elite opposition such as Bayern, leaving him with a Squawka Performance Score of -23.
It is easy to shoot the huge-haired messenger of Moyes' supposed tactical vision for United, but it feels akin to taking a shotgun to a rather gangly fish wedged into a barrel of defensive midfield discontent at present.
But given that he is currently in his first season at an elite club - a campaign that has also been heavily disrupted by injury - are we being too harsh on Fellaini? Does he have what it takes to make the difference in the big games for United?
It is no lie that Fellaini's opening year at Old Trafford has been a disjointed one - wrist, back and hamstring injuries have restricted him to just 14 Premier League appearances. So far the Belgian has a grand total of zero goals and assists for United, with only three key passes made for team-mates.
Compared to last season's statistics - where he grabbed 11 goals in 31 games and 35 key passes besides his five assists - Fellaini has been impotent in this United side. It is not all his own doing, as the 26-year-old is now playing a deeper game than he did at Goodison Park, though it begs the question - why would Moyes sign such an effective attacking midfield presence, only to effectively neuter him in defensive midfield?
In truth, Fellaini's deadline day deal was partially down to panic from Moyes and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward as they sought to simply get a body through the door after a summer of transfer market naivety and disappointment.
It was clear that Fellaini was not Moyes' first, second, or even third choice to fill the gaping chasm in United's soft centre, but he was the only man willing to fill the role that could still be bought as the window began to slide shut.
Still, Fellaini showed where his strengths lay last season - in holding up the ball in the final third, bringing team-mates into play, and finishing chances. Indeed, on the opening day of the 2012-13 season, United fans were given a brutal taste of his talents as he dominated the Red Devils, winning nine of 14 headed duels and scoring the only goal in Everton's 1-0 home win over United to land a Performance Score of 45.
The midfielder won 151 of 253 headed duels last season and 60 of 95 tackles, though his passing left something to be desired at 79%. While that has jumped to 88% for United this season, Fellaini is now missing the key ingredient of what made him such a formidable player for the Toffees.
With Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata all buzzing around attacking midfield, chances for Fellaini to get forward are limited, especially given the full-backs' license to roam forward and a creaky central defence, meaning Fellaini has to hold the fort. Yet in this respect he struggles.
In what might be considered as one of United's 'big games' this season, Fellaini has not once showed he is capable of turning a game by himself. Manchester City wiped the floor with United in both league games this season, with Fellaini achieving Performance Scores of 8 in the 4-1 away drubbing, and -4 in the 3-0 home defeat. At Old Trafford, he inexplicably landed a huge elbow on Pablo Zabaleta - while in possession, no less - and somehow avoided a straight red card.
He was even worse against Liverpool with a Performance Score of -10, with just one defensive action in 75 minutes and only four of 10 tackles won. He gained a grand Performance Score of 1 as former club Everton took three points at Old Trafford in December, and only played for six minutes in the home win against Arsenal.
Fellaini has made five Champions League appearances this season, but his statistics make for difficult reading - on only one occasion has he posted a positive Performance Score, with 34 against Bayer Leverkusen in the opening group game back in September. Against Shakhtar, a -31; Sociedad, a -17; a -4 in his brief cameo against Olympiacos; and -23 against Bayern.
In Europe, Fellaini has only won 45% of his total duels, which is damning for a player who should be dominating opponents with his physique and impressive technique, especially in the air.
There is hope for Fellaini, however - he has shown improved performances away from Old Trafford against less illustrious opponents, impressing away at Fulham (Performance Score of 31), Crystal Palace (52) and West Brom (73).
While many have already written off his Old Trafford career, it would be harsh on Fellaini were he not to be given a full, potentially injury-free 2014-15 campaign to prove himself at United. Sadly for him, time is one thing that neither Moyes nor the club have on their side, and with a flurry of transfer activity set to commence this summer, Fellaini may well find himself on the fringes of the squad come August.
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- Marouane Fellaini
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