Matic signs for Manchester United: How does it affect Fellaini?

SANDY UT- JULY 17: Marouane Fellaini
SANDY UT- JULY 17: Marouane Fellaini /

Manchester United have just splashed the cash on their third signing of the summer, landing Nemanja Matic from Chelsea to further their options in midfield. With competitions for a spot in the middle of the park getting more intense than ever, what does it mean for Marouane Fellaini?

Jose Mourinho has been effusive in his praise for Matic in the wake of his official unveiling as a United player, saying that “he represents everything we want in a footballer; loyalty, consistency, ambition, team player.” As most United fans would agree, Matic represents a typical Mourinho signing, the ever so dependable holding midfielder to protect the defence and give freedom to the attacking players to do their job. He may be the key to getting the best out of Paul Pogba, something which is key to United’s success.

Last season, none of United’s midfielders offered the kind of defensive stability to allow Pogba thrive in offensive positions, not least Fellaini. The Belgian is never the most disciplined player nor does he possess the tactical intelligence to break up play with a timely tackle or interception. Nonetheless, he was at times deployed in the holding role out of necessity because there were no other options.

Although to Fellaini’s credit he often did perform admirably in this role, it is difficult to see him being deployed similarly now that the manager has Matic at his disposal. After playing his way into Mourinho’s plans last year despite the odds against him, could he possibly do the same in the coming season?

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – MAY 24: (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

Mourinho’s Favorite

As if to quash the rumors linking Fellaini with a move to Galatasaray, Mourinho started him in the last friendly game against Valerenga. He was duly rewarded too, with the Belgian hammering home a cross to break the deadlock albeit via a deflection from a defender. Afterwards, Mourinho insisted that Fellaini will not leave this summer, stating:

"‘It is easier for Galatasaray to get me than Marouane. Marouane – forget it. He’s very important for me.’"

This goes to show how highly Mourinho regards Fellaini. At the start of last season, many predicted the Belgian wouldn’t get a look in the first team with Pogba and Herrera seemingly the manager’s first choice pairing. Over the course of the season with injuries and suspensions mounting in the squad, Fellaini gradually found more playing time and eventually ended the season with 47 appearances across all competitions, his most in a United shirt.

Even after Fellaini conceded a late penalty against Everton in December and aggravating his already strained relationship with United’s supporters, Mourinho kept his faith and continued to play him in important games, no less so than the Europa League final. The manager’s apparently unwavering faith towards Fellaini could only work in the player’s favor coming into the new season.

‘Destructive No. 10’

It is difficult to pinpoint Fellaini’s best role and while it might remain an unsolved conundrum, there is no denying the Belgian’s effectiveness in the air and his ability to be a nuisance in the penalty box with his strength and presence.  These two traits, combined with his unique skill to bring airborne balls into control with his chest makes Fellaini an effective target man.

Although he doesn’t have the level of technique necessary to function as a striker or a traditional no. 10, Fellaini has shown that he could perform as an unorthodox playmaker. In this role, his main job is to stay forward and provide an aerial outlet for the team while on the defensive side, he presses from the front and harasses the opposition’s midfielders. Because he is expected play simple passes and win possession high up the pitch instead of dictating play or making defence-splitting passes, the role he fulfills is a fine balance between playmaking and disrupting.

Therefore, a ‘destructive no. 10’ would be a suitable term to define this role. Fellaini is the only player in the squad capable of fulfilling it and how handy it would be to be able to call upon his services whenever the need for a plan B arises.

Next: How Manchester United Could Lineup with Nemanja Matic


Fellaini clearly remains an important part of Mourinho’s plans and with United competing on four fronts next season, there will be plenty of chance for him to show his worth despite the arrival of Matic. Love him or hate him, Fellaini is here to stay for the time being.