Why does Louis van Gaal persist with Marouane Fellaini in the Manchester United midfield?


Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini was one of many players criticised following Thursday’s exit from the Europa League at the hands of bitter rivals Liverpool, and manager Louis van Gaal’s decision to select him in the starting eleven drew more ire from the disgruntled supporters.

The Belgian international has underperformed all season, but surprisingly was picked to start over the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger against Liverpool. Schweinsteiger was given a 20-minute run-out in the second-half, while Schneiderlin didn’t feature at all from the bench, and fans are questioning why Van Gaal continues to play Fellaini.

It’s clear that Fellaini’s large frame and aerial dominance is something the Manchester United manager is desperate to unleash in the middle of the park, but the former Everton man continues to struggle with all facets of the game. He struggles to play a passing game in tight confines, he doesn’t possess the necessary vision to supply the pacey forwards and he struggles to provide any defensive protection.

In his first season at the club, Van Gaal got the best of Fellaini by having the Belgian operate as an impact player to whip crosses and deep balls into. Fellaini’s aerial superiority saw him scoring and creating chances inside the opposition’s penalty area, but this season has seen the 29-year-old operating in a deeper role to no avail.

For a central midfielder, it’s imperative that said player is tactically aware, comfortable in possession when under pressure, and wins their personal duels to overrun their opponents in the middle of the park. Fellaini doesn’t share any of these qualities, and his lacklustre showings are contributing to Manchester United’s poor form in all competitions.

Fellaini does have brilliant balance when the ball is at his feet which makes him a difficult player to outmuscle, but his decision-making when in possession often sees him giving the ball away. He’s also guilty of giving away so many cheap fouls, and seems to be drawing media attention for having elbowed a number of players this season. It’s hard to see what Van Gaal likes in the player to warrant keeping him in the starting lineup, especially given the talent on the bench that would be more than capable of replacing him.

For the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to be kept on the bench for Fellaini is an insult to the pair of them, and provides further ammunition for disgruntled supporters to vent their fury at the manager when United fall short.

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