Marouane Fellaini – superb in a deep-lying role for Everton

January 18, 2010

Marouane Fellaini’s ability has never been in question – he’s not short of being the all-round footballer. Tall, strong, a fierce tackler, a good passer and the ability to find the net – he’s exactly what you want from a modern football player, and demonstrates why David Moyes paid £15m – yes, £15m – for him, despite the fact he was completely unproven outside the relatively poor Belgian top flight.

Everton’s problem has been the question of where to play him – he came with the reputation as a box-to-box midfielder. When Everton were temporarily striker-less last season, Fellaini moved upfront, and generally did well.

However, David Moyes has started to field him in a deeper, holding midfield role (apparently his preferred position) alongside three very attacking midfield colleagues, in Landon Donovan, Steven Pieenar and Diniyar Bilyaledinov, with the clear direction to sit in front of the defence and let others create.

Against Manchester City at the weekend, he recieved rave reviews. The Guardian gave him a rare 9/10 rating, and Ollie Mason waxed lyrical on his deployment in this position.

Part of the reason he’s such a good holding midfielder is that he is that rare thing in the modern game – a really tough tackler. This chalkboard demonstrates how good he is in the tackle, with an impressive 11:2 win:loss ratio.

by Guardian Chalkboards

And it’s not just about fierce tackles, as this wonderful pirouette-tackle against Craig Bellamy demonstrated:

Another key feature of his play is his aerial ability. At 6 ft 5 in (it’s unclear where that includes his hair) and with the ability to time his jump well, he’s completely dominant against opponents. If there’s one underrated feature a holding midfield player needs, it’s being good in the air. Particularly from opposition goal kicks, it’s incredibly useful to have a strong presence in the centre of midfield, so your centre-backs don’t need to stray out of position if an opposing striker wins the ball.

A holding midfielder comfortable in the air

A holding midfielder uncomfortable in the air

In the first diagram here, the blue holding midfielder is comfortable challenging the red target man if he drops deep to win the ball in the air, and therefore any flick-on is harder to find a red teammate in a dangerous position.

In the second diagram, the blue holding midfielder is not comfortable in the air, and the blue centre-back feels the need to follow the red target man to challenge aerially. This draws him out of position, playing into the hands of the red team, because any flick-on is much more likely to find an attacking midfielder exploiting the space.

Of course, in the case of the first diagram, the blue side could quite easily temporarily switch their centre-back and holding midfielder for goal-kicks, but (a) this will only work for goal-kicks or free-kicks, not in open play and (b) it is effectively admitting there is a weakness in the line up.

When Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva played alongside each other in the heart of the Arsenal midfield, it effectively formed a ’square’ of four players, along with the centre-backs, that meant that high balls into the centre of the pitch were dealt with. Arsenal struggled with this sort of tactic when they played two smaller players in the centre of midfield, and the use of Alex Song as a tall, holding midfielder has been particularly successful.

This also helps Everton, and with Fellaini playing the holding role superbly, their creative players are left to create.

Tags: , ,