Fellaini | Big Hair, Bigger Expectations

Fellaini | Big Hair, Bigger Expectations

Marouane Fellaini has a wonderful head of hair. Unfortunately for so skilled a player, the Belgian international has been known more for his over-sized afro than his play on the field.   In an international break that has seen Everton’s already thin side further weakened with Joseph Yobo departing for Turkey on loan and injuries to both Leighton Baines and Victor Anichebe we could all use a laugh so we invite you to enjoy these images while reviewing Fellaini’s Everton career.

With the recent departure of Mikel Arteta to Arsenal and Seamus Coleman suffering torn ligaments in his ankle the Everton midfield and attack are operating without two influential play makers.  Certainly Everton manager David Moyes will be relying on his senior players heavily as the team has submitted the smallest squad list to the Premier League:

Anichebe, Baines, Cahill, Hibbert, Jagielka, Neville, Osman, Bilyaletdinov,Coleman, Distin, Fellaini, Heitinga, Howard, Mucha, Saha, Yobo, Drenthe,  and Stracqualursi

Fellaini

With a number of players on the Under 21 players (Contract and Scholars) list at 38, there is certainly no shortage of available players though Moyes will again need to pull all the correct strings for Everton to finish the season in the top half of the table.  The people at The Transfer Price Index have taken a look at their numbers and have Everton placed in a tier with Sunderland and Aston Villa and those three teams finishing 7th-9th.  This was based on the available transfer data as of August 11, 2011 and, subsequent to that, Everton have seen the exit of Arteta, Beckford and Yakubu with only Stracqualursi and Drenthe added.

The TPI is most accurate as a retrospective measure, and the authors admit that there are many factors outside of their data that will impact the final results (including injuries, luck, etc.).  One factor that could heavily influence the outcome of the season is the return to fitness or form of a player who’s previous been on the roster but saw those minutes reduced in the previous season.  For Everton this season, that could well be Marouane Fellaini.

Famous Hair

Fellaini arrived at Everton in September of 2008 for a club record fee of £15m.  Since his first season when he played 2399′ he has seen his minutes reduced severely.  Keeping in mind that there are 3200′ minutes to be played (plus added time of course), Fellaini should see a significant increase in his playing time if he is able to maintain fitness.  As his injuries are not recurrences but rather the direct result of challenges, it seems he is simply getting unlucky and is not predisposed to injury.  In each of the past two season he has been ruled out for the remained of the season after suffering on field injuries.  In 2009-10 it was a tackle in early February from Liverpool defender Kyrgiakos that had Fellaini take off the field on a stretcher and ruled out for the season.  The following year it was an ankle injury against Chelsea that led to a late February surgery and another spring with the physio instead of on the pitch.

As his minutes on the pitch have decreased, Fellaini’s effectiveness as a player has remained largely stable.  While some statistics are not available going back to 2008-09 (the defensive errors and poss of possession statistics in the above table) from the numbers that we do have we can see that certain areas of his game have improved (notably aerial challenges – this season Fellaini has won 8 of 9 aerial challenges).  Those areas where he has seen a decrease in effectiveness, above in his tackle success rate, he has made up with additional effort.  Note that despite his minutes and efficiency decreaseing his tackles have stayed roughly even.  The simple explanation is that he is attempting more tackles.  This has not prevented him him from continuing to win ground 50/50 at a greater than 50% rate (54% last season) while winning nearly 60% of his aerial 50/50’s. Each of these has stayed constant on a per minute basis over the past three seasons.

As a midfielder, Fellaini he has improved his passing over the past three seasons, both over all and from open play.  He has also significantly increased his dribbling in matches, from 1 successful dribble every 5 matches up to 1 per game.  This should increase this season as Arteta’s departure will leave Fellaini with a larger role in the attack and Moyes will need him to create more than 1 chance every 90′ (his approximate 3 year average).  This season, Marouane has stayed in line with his historic numbers, with just 2 chances created in the opening two EPL fixtures.  Again, note that some passing statistics aren’t available going back to 2008, and the “0” in the passing % columns are merely placeholders.

Everton’s reliance on Midfield scoring has been discussed in a number of other articles on EPLIndex. With the loss of Arteta, Beckford, and recent injuries to Anichebe and Baines, it will again fall to the midfield to provide the scoring for Everton.  Fellanini’s 2008-09 return of 8 goals would go a long way to ensuring Everton score with enough frequency to finish in the top 10.   His dramatic decrease in goals can be attributed to the decline in his shooting accuracy coupled with taking 40% fewer shots per match.

There can be no question that this season will be one that will test Everton’s resolve and David Moyes’ patience.  This team possesses the technical ability and the tactical discipline to succeed and a healthy Fellaini can, and hopefully will, provide the driving force from midfield.  While his time at Everton has been successful for as long as he is on the pitch, he is yet to fulfill the expectations that brought him to the club in the first place.  If he remains on the field for 38 games, he has proven he has the skill to make this his finest season to date.

Image at right created by Cooper using The Simpson’s Avatar maker available here.