The future of Marouane Fellaini continues to be up for debate ahead of Everton’s first home Premier League fixture of the new season. West Brom are the visitors on Saturday, but will the match prove to be the Belgian’s Goodison Park swansong?
Everton were strident in their rejection of Manchester United’s joint offer for Fellaini and Leighton Baines and time will tell if that is the end of the matter, although as one online commentator noted it took David Moyes a decade to build a reputation at Everton and a few minutes to destroy it. The offer from United was the exact sort that would have drawn Moyes’ ire in the past, and it was refreshing to see the indignation remains even if the manager does not.
Fellaini was a central figure in Moyes’ last few years as Everton manager, particularly last season when the midfielder was arguably the side’s most important player, along with Baines. It’s easy to see why Moyes wants Fellaini at Old Trafford – especially easy for Everton fans, who have seen Fellaini dominate opposition midfields and defenders on a regular basis since he arrived in 2008.
It’s easy to forget, though, since Fellaini has been superb for the past couple of years, that his initial performances in an Everton shirt were not the stuff of a £15m player. The
Fellaini recovered and improved to become Moyes’ main man, to the point the manager was willing to let leave Tim Cahill, previously the emblem of Moyes’ Everton, with Fellaini assigned his second striker role. It was a position in which he has impressed over the last season and a half, but, perhaps tellingly, not one he appears likely to take up under Martinez.
Evidence is scarce still but it was Ross Barkley playing behind Nikica Jelavic in Martinez’s opening fixture against Norwich, with Fellaini forming a midfield two next to Leon Osman. Barkley impressed in the advanced role, scoring a stunning goal, and Martinez has promised to persist with the youngster. Fellaini, however, was less impressive in his deeper slot, and was culpable in the build-up to both Norwich goals as he stood too far off the opposition. It’s a position in which Darron Gibson would be much more suited, when he returns from injury.
Fellaini was under Moyes last season almost a central pivot around which the team’s play was based – Baines and Steven Pienaar often combined with Fellaini on the left flank to make their fabulous partnership an equally-dangerous trio. But Fellaini was also the out-ball against packed defences, only ever a Phil Jagielka diagonal pass away from taking possession on his chest. It’s an alternative anathema to Martinez, in theory at least, and may mean the new manager places less emphasis on Fellaini than his predecessor.
Barkley’s emergence, the shift in formation and position and Martinez’s strict adherence to his passing scruples could easily combine to render Fellaini less essential under the new manager. Whether or not that leads to Martinez willingly letting Fellaini follow Moyes to United though still depends on the champions making an offer Everton can realistically accept.
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