Jack: Fellaini's move back could mean he moves out quicker

Kristian Jack
8/19/2013 1:04:48 AM
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It is the morning after the opening day of the Premier League season and a national sports radio station in England is taking calls from football fans on the changes they witnessed and didn't like on day one of the season.

Some replies are funny, such as a fan of lower league team, Hartlepool, who said he was disgusted at his side's decision to not score goals this season, while others, like the Arsenal fan complaining at the price of wine going up inside their stadium, failed to get much sympathy. At least something went up in value at The Emirates during the summer, I thought. 

In the end the overriding message was football fans had to embrace change because there is an awful lot of it taking place.
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said 'progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.'

Luis Suarez would argue his constant mind changing has changed very little this summer but if Shaw was alive today he most certainly would have written an equally clever phrase about the Uruguayan's current plight. He would also have relished Saturday's action as the Barclays Premier League turned the page on a new chapter, with an unprecedented four new managers taking charge of the best six clubs from last season.

David Moyes at Manchester United, Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City and Jose Mourinho at Chelsea will certainly receive their fair share of ink this season but at Everton, new boss Roberto Martinez shouldn't go unnoticed as he goes about molding a team into his way of thinking.
During their 2-2 draw at Norwich City on Saturday, seen live on TSN, Martinez wasted no time in making a significant adjustment to his side immediately.

On paper it looked like a team that could have been drawn up by Moyes last season. They featured a back-four including attacking wingbacks Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines, a midfield three of Leon Osman, youngster Ross Barkley and Marouane Fellaini, with Steven Pienaar on the left wing, Kevin Mirallas on the right, flanking Nikica Jelavic up front.

Under Moyes, Belgian Fellaini would have played as the attacking member of the midfield three, a position he excelled in last season when he went on to lead the club in goals(11) and shots(90). One of his best performances, in fact, came in week one, at home to Manchester United, when he scored the game's only goal and was a menace all night to the opposition.

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The towering 25-year-old went on to score five headed goals in the 2012/13 campaign, just one behind Swansea's Michu for the league lead, in a season so successful many expected him to be at a different club by now.

At Norwich on Saturday, still dressed in the blue of Everton, Fellaini started a Premier League match for the first time not under the guidance of Moyes. Martinez responded by immediately placing him alongside Osman in a much deeper role, a position he has adopted for Belgium internationally and periodically for his club in his early days under Moyes.

On the surface it appeared the decision may have come from a lack of depth at that position as Darron Gibson was injured, but Fellaini's performance in the role, along with his wishes and the manager's plans for the team going forward, could mean the Belgian's time as a number ten, off the striker, has come to an end.

In May, when discussing his future, Fellaini showed his cards on what he really feels about being versatile: "Sometimes I look at myself and ask, 'What is my best position?' But I think it's a defensive midfielder, that's the best one.

The manager might like it sometimes when I play up front because I can cause trouble for the defenders, but for me my best position is defensive midfield, stopping the opposition and then looking to impose myself on a game," he said.

A year on from his commanding showing against Manchester United, on day one of this season, the stats were very different from the ones that night at Goodison, with many aerial duels won much deeper in his own half.

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Everton are a side whose full backs play very high up the pitch, so it is no surprise that many of Fellaini's winning headers are done so deep as on several occasions, particularly against long balls or fast pace counter attacks, he is one of the four deepest Everton players, alongside Osman and the two centre-backs.

However, this does not mean he cannot make a statement as an attacking threat from that position, quite the opposite in fact. Fellaini's deeper position allows him to read the game better, and in a team that treasures the ball well (a trait that will likely improve more under Martinez), he can make penetrating runs from deep without worrying about being caught out in a transition.

Against Norwich not only did he lead the game in passes attempted (88) and passes completed (77), more importantly he led the game with 26 successful passes in the attacking third, with many accurately finding Everton's wide players whose overlaps cause opponents constant problems.

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Fellaini's placement as a defensive midfielder did not come without problems and when he was guilty of allowing Steven Whittaker to easily go by him on his way to scoring Norwich's opening goal of the game, it was clear he was a man who was still unsure when to be overly physical and take a sensible yellow card. His reservations are not surprising considering he has spent the best part of the last three seasons defending his own poor disciplinary record.

That is an area he will need to improve on but there seems to be a common ground between club and player that this position change could work out for both parties. It is no secret that Fellaini wants to play Champions League football for a bigger club and playing in the second band of a four band system, rather than in a 3 of a 4231, showcases his talents to technical teams unlikely to ever adopt such a direct style where a big man is needed further forward.

Everton, meanwhile, may grow into a side that will soon deploy the 3-4-3 style Martinez used at Wigan, a system where a forward is required to come deeper with his back to goal into the space a further advanced Fellaini would occupy. If Martinez gets his wish and Fellaini stays for another season, his box-to-box style will be essential in the centre of a midfield 4.

Either way, change is certainly taking shape already at Everton, yet the only one that will get the fans to call into radio shows will be if he is sold. More commanding performances in a deeper role will ensure it will be a matter of when, not if. For the good of the club, it appears that is a gamble Martinez is willing to take.

George Bernard Shaw would have been proud.


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