Saturday 23 September 2017

'Lampshade' Fellaini aims to finally set Old Trafford career alight

united's £27.5m 'flop' eager to recapture form against old Everton team-mates

Mark Ogden and Chris Bascombe

They have begun to call Marouane Fellaini the 'Lampshade' on the terraces at Manchester United, yet the Belgian will perhaps be the first to concede that his unflattering nickname does not stem from his illuminating performances in a red shirt.

No goals, a failure to start on the winning side in the Premier League, a Champions League red card and an injury that is proving to be debilitating, Fellaini will face former club Everton at Old Trafford tonight wondering how it could all go so wrong following his £27.5m transfer.

It is a rarely a good sign when sardonic terrace humour leads to a player being burdened with a tag he is unable to shift.

Dimitar Berbatov was quickly dismissed as 'Berbaflop,' while Peter Davenport never recovered after he was described as 'Garry Birtles without a beard' when his move to United from Nottingham Forest in the 1980s mirrored the disastrous Old Trafford career of £1.2m signing Birtles.

Still, with Everton arriving at United with the hosts without Michael Carrick and Phil Jones due to injury and suspension respectively, Fellaini could not choose a better time to step up to the plate and make a mockery of his unfortunate moniker – a caustic appraisal of his appearance and mobility during his 10 appearances to date.

"He's not had the best of starts," said United manager David Moyes. "But this is a difficult club to join and settle in right away.

"It's a new manager as well, so from that point of view, he can take time to settle in.

"But he is a good player, and has been for a few years at this level, and I have no doubt he will go on to prove it with this club.

"He is having the same settling-in process as probably most players who come to Manchester United go through "Some players come in and hit the ground running, but there will be others who will take a bit of time to settle in."

PLAGUED

Fellaini's attempts to impose himself on his new team have not been helped by the wrist injury that has plagued him since the Champions League encounter against Shakhtar Donetsk two months ago. Moyes has admitted that the 26-year-old is protecting the injury when playing and, once Carrick returns to fitness, Fellaini is expected to go under the knife.

His lack of fitness has also concerned Moyes, but Fellaini himself is understood to believe that the pre-season campaign he went through under Roberto Martinez at Everton this summer, with the focus on more ball work than physical stamina, was short of the intensity he requires for full fitness.

Protecting an injury, while lacking the required fitness, would appear a dangerous combination and Fellaini has unsurprisingly struggled to make his mark at United.

With Everton last season, Fellaini scored 11 league goals and created five for his team-mates – a respectable contribution from midfield – yet he has failed to register a goal or assist so far for United, where he has been deployed in a deeper role by Moyes.

With Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa impressing in the position between midfield and the lone forward, Fellaini has been denied the opportunity to play in the role which he made his own at Everton. But United coach Phil Neville, a team-mate of Fellaini's at Everton, insists the player will come good at Old Trafford.

"What is important for Marouane now is to play well in a match that we win and he scores a goal," Neville said. "He needs to score and win.

"We need to see why we bought him, but we have every faith in him and we are really relaxed about it." Moyes, who claimed Robin van Persie 'has a chance' of playing following groin and toe injury problems, comes up against Everton for the first time this evening since ending his 11-year reign as manager to succeed Alex Ferguson in the summer.

United's subsequent pursuit of Fellaini and Everton full-back Leighton Baines was described as a 'farce' by Martinez, with the Merseyside club dismissing one joint offer as 'derisory and insulting.'

Although Moyes insists there is no animosity between him and his old club, he admits he could be subjected to a mixed reception from the visiting supporters tonight. "I would not be surprised," Moyes said. "Disappointed? It would not feel one way or the other.

"I had a great rapport (with the fans) at Everton, but things would not surprise me, because I have got to do a job for Manchester United, while Everton supporters have to support their team."

Meanwhile, Martinez has set Everton a target of 71 points to secure Champions League qualification.

The Spanish manager says his club will need to be in a position to take an average of 1.94 points from each of the final 11 games of the season to meet their objective.

Martinez takes his side to Old Trafford this evening claiming he would rather attack, play well and lose than be negative, play poorly and win.

"To get into the Champions League, I can guarantee what you need to do is get an average of 1.94 points from the last 11 games," said Martinez.

"That is what we are working towards – getting into that position. Winning at Old Trafford or not is not going to affect being in that position. You need to be in a position where you can get around 70 points.

"If we get 71 points we will be in the Champions League. It doesn't matter if we are 10th or 15th now. That's the way it happens."

Asked to explain why playing well and losing would mean more than winning ugly, he said: "I want to play well, be the better side and win. But, if I had to settle for one of those choices, it would be playing well, being the better side and losing, 100pc, because this game is about us being able to perform at Old Trafford and being able to show ourselves that we can compete with teams away from home eye-to-eye.

"Sometimes the result in is the lap of the gods, it can be a bad decision from a referee or a piece of magic from a player. We need to have a substance to our performance so we can take ourselves on to the next level. It's about the long-term."

Martinez has been cautious about his side's expectations in his debut season, but he is becoming more receptive to the idea that it is possible to finish in the top four.

He said: "What we have got is a very good mixture of experienced players who know the game and what to expect and they give you that safe outlook in your performance and then we have these young, brave arrogant footballers who are facing the unknown.

"When you have that mixture that pushes you to compete against anyone. I do feel we have that raw talent. We are embracing that very good experience and that makes our squad a very tough squad to play against." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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