So, the cat is finally out of the bag.
Marouane Fellaini has confirmed where he is going to be playing his football beyond the Summer – and it is not AC Milan or China. The Belgian midfielder has signed a two-year extension at Manchester United which will keep him at the club until 2020 at the least, with an option for one more year included in the contract, making it a window where Jose Mourinho is having everything his way, absolutely unequivocally at Manchester United.
With that indicating that Fellaini is firmly in the plans of the Portuguese – it is rather, in a way, worrying to think what his ideas are for 2018/19 – when it comes to his approach to games, especially when things are not going well.
It is safe to say that United fans are right to be wary of Mourinho’s tedious game plan ahead of the new season – after a mixed campaign that started well only to slowly experience the descent in quality and consistency from the back end of December. United did end up finishing second with 81 points on board but if anything that stopped them from mounting a solid title challenge last season, then it was the pragmatism that followed the dull period in December.
However, the good news is Manchester United have already signed a midfielder in this summer window – the £52-million Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, who may very well be an acquisition well thought-out and made to instantly improve the starting eleven.
There is the 31-year old Serb Nemanja Matic, Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenant, who can play the anchor role in the middle and Spaniard Ander Herrera, who is somehow already entering his fifth year with the club, and strangely whose position in the squad is less clear now than it was two years ago, can be shuttled around the midfield to perform various different roles to a decent standard.
Other than the unparalleled chest control and irresistible elbows to the face, what Marouane Fellaini may actually bring to the table, is the key that will unlock new roles for Manchester United’s best outfield player.
Paul Pogba, under both his managers at club and county – has been predominantly deployed in a midfield two, against conventional wisdom, limiting the Frenchman’s innate attacking instincts as a trade-off for increased defensive security – particularly against sides who can go toe-to-toe with United. As a result, his performances for club and country, in the biggest of stages, have at best been measured and almost regimented when they could clearly be more flamboyant and true to his natural game.
The Frenchman, when not tasked with the responsibilities of dictating the way United played and instead, given the license to wreak havoc in the final third, he can be a very good secondary source of goals – someone that can complement Lukaku with a more direct influence on goals and by extension – the outcome of the match. And Manchester United could do with a midfielder / second striker getting 15 goals a season for they have not averaged 2 goals a game in a Premier League season for the last five seasons.
But in signing a new midfielder Fred and crucially, keeping hold of Fellaini, Mourinho may have at last – the freedom to play Pogba in a more advanced role without losing the physicality he prefers in midfield or further back to help out his defenders late in the game. Not only in a midfield three, there is an avenue for the 25-year old further forward – either on the left or through the middle just off of the centre-forward where he is effectiveness is amplified – as are United’s chances of winning a football match.
The fruits of Pogba’s involvement in the final third were enjoyed at the Etihad, when the midfielder produced a masterclass in the second half, dragging his team out of the mire, inspiring them to victory at a tough place, after going two quick goals down early on. With Fellaini staying, Mourinho could flick this switch more often than he has been able to do, in the recent past.
The Belgian, unless he is starting in midfield in the most important games for United, is the quintessential ‘curveball’ Mourinho can throw when everything else has failed. And he is not a bad option to have – to do just that.
This cat may just continue to stay alive.