Friday 23 March 2018

Fellaini happy to take forward role after crucial strike against Brugge

Marouane Fellaini celebrates after scoring the third goal for Manchester United at the death in the first leg
Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Marouane Fellaini celebrates after scoring the third goal for Manchester United at the death in the first leg Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

Mark Ogden

Louis van Gaal has hinted that he will eschew a late transfer window move for attacking reinforcements by confirming that Marouane Fellaini will operate as a forward this season.

Manchester United will secure a place in the Champions League group stages tonight if they avoid a two-goal second-leg defeat against Club Brugge - a 3-1 defeat would lead to - extra-time at the Jan Breydel Stadium following the 3-1 home win last week, which Fellaini's headed goal secured four minutes into stoppage time.

That goal has prompted the Brugge coach Michel Preud'homme to claim that his team need a "miracle" to stay in the competition.

The strike may spare United a nervous evening in Flanders but it made up for the team's several missed chances in the first leg.

United's fitful efforts in front of goal this season, which have seen them score only two goals in three Premier League games, have led to growing calls from supporters for Van Gaal to sign replacements for Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, both of whom have moved on.

But the United manager insists that, having added to his midfield options this summer, Fellaini will now play further forward than his usual midfield position.


"Fellaini can play in a No 9 position and a 10," Van Gaal said. "He can also play six and eight, but this year he shall play more as a nine and 10 because we have other players there. His goal last week was very important because now we can start this game with a lot of more confidence."

Though Memphis Depay scored twice in the first leg, the missed chances added to the sense that the team lacked a cutting edge. Wayne Rooney's inability to score so far this term has raised questions about the United captain, to the extent that the club have been linked with moves for Neymar, Gareth Bale and the former AC Milan forward Pato, now playing in Brazil.

Fellaini, with eight goals for United in 53 appearances since arriving two years ago from Everton in a £27.5million transfer, could hardly be described as a prolific goalscorer, rather a consistent threat from midfield. But the Belgian, 27, insists that he has no concerns about playing in a more advanced role.

"I played number 10 and number nine when I had to help the team," Fellaini said. "I can play there and help my team-mates and my team. It's not important where I play - it's important to win. It is different to play as a midfielder than as a striker or number 10, but I enjoy all the positions I can play.

"Last season, I did very well [in a number ten position] and I want to continue like that. I know the philosophy of the manager and am looking forward to doing well and scoring goals."

While insisting that he retained faith in his attacking options, Van Gaal acknowledged that United's struggles to score this season had left his team in the usual situation - for a United team at least - of being more impressive as a defensive unit than as an attacking force.

Despite scoring only five goals in four games - one of them Kyle Walker's own goal in the 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur - United have conceded only two, one of them also an own goal, Michael Carrick's against Brugge.

Van Gaal insisted that, defensively, United were showing signs of progress.

"Our defensive organisation has pleased me most," the Dutchman said. "I divide football in four main moments and we have two moments where the opponent has ball and then we are at our best. We proved that last year and now we are continuing with a lot of clean sheets, so that is very important. But we have to improve when we have the ball.

"We have been a little bit unlucky, though. When you see Liverpool against Arsenal, it was also 0-0, but you cannot say they cannot score goals. They can score goals, both sides, but they were unlucky and came up against great goalkeepers."

With Van Gaal planning to play several first-team players in a practice game against an Ajax youth team at Carrington tomorrow to improve their fitness - including the goalkeeper David de Gea and the defender Marcos Rojo - the United manager travelled with a squad of just 18 to Belgium. But he insisted that nobody at United would take qualification at Brugge's expense for granted.

"I don't think my players shall take it easy," Van Gaal said. "Brugge won against their Greek opponent 3-0 [Panathinaikos], so they are capable to do that with the support of the fans. We have seen their fans in Manchester, so I think they shall support them a lot." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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