Louis van Gaal will use Marouane Fellaini as a striker this season and the Manchester United manager believes the erstwhile midfielder can be dangerous as the main forward or in the number 10 role.
United go into tonight's Champions League play-off second leg at Club Brugge with a 3-1 advantage. Yet the first leg against last season's Belgian runners-up was the only time United have scored more than one goal in their four games this season. Wayne Rooney, whom Van Gaal wants to score more than 25 goals this season, is yet to open his account. The captain has not scored in 10 competitive outings, his last coming on April 4th.
Fellaini continues to be the barometer of Van Gaal’s United. The Belgian’s emergence last season as a key lieutenant of the manager was a declaration of how his United would play. A precis might be unyielding, awkward, and content to win ugly.
After a summer that has added Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian, an intriguing subplot of Van Gaal's second season is whether Fellaini is to remain a first choice.
Last year Fellaini scored seven times and Van Gaal is clear the 27-year-old can offer a threat in attack. “He can play in a nine position and in a 10 but also six and eight but this year he shall play more 10 and 9 than 6 and 8 because there [in midfield] we have more players,” he said.
Fellaini is ready to operate up front. “In the past I played number 10 and number nine sometimes when I had to help the team,“ he said. “It’s not important where I play, it’s important to win the game. It’s different playing midfielder and striker or number 10 but I enjoy all the positions I can play. “Last season I did well and I want to continue like that. I know the philosophy of the manager and am looking forward to doing well and scoring some goals.”
Van Gaal, who still hopes to add a forward and possibly a central defender before the transfer window closes, was asked if the present squad are equipped to be successful in the Champions League.
“We have to wait and see,” he said of tomorrow’s draw for the group stage. “It’s also dependable on the draw and the quality of our opponents. But first we have to beat Brugge so let’s see if we are continuing in this Champions League.”
Fellaini’s opening contribution hardly did his chances any harm. Thrown on as an 84th-minute substitute for Rooney in the first leg, Fellaini’s headed goal in added time gave United a 3-1 lead and invaluable breathing space.
He has been suspended for the opening three Premier League matches and Van Gaal is cautious about fielding players who lack “match rhythm”. Yet on came the Belgian to score a typical goal. From the left, Depay launched a cross into the area and in familiar dump-truck manner up went Fellaini to head home. It had Van Gaal almost offering glowing praise. The goal and his statement he plans to use the midfielder as a “number nine” this year suggests Fellaini will remain a significant option.
Boon The 27-year-old sat alongside Van Gaal at the media conference before tonight’s second leg in Bruges.
He laughed when asked by the manager to confirm that operating as a number nine and 10 rather than a six or eight “because there we have more players” was okay. Yet the truth is Van Gaal has been a boon for Fellaini. There is a case his arrival saved the player’s United career.
Despite the 3-1 lead Matteo Darmian, the right-back, wants United to attack at the Jan Breydel Stadium. “For us, 0-0 would be a good result but we always try to win and it will be no different,“ he told MUTV. “We know that they are a good team, particularly at home, but we’ll be going out to win and we know what we have do. We don’t think that it will be easy but it’s very important to all the people at the club for us to qualify.“
Michel Preud’homme is not optimistic of his side overturning United’s advantage. “Miracles happen sometimes but they are two goals in front and they are a very professional team,“ the Bruges manager said.
“To get a miracle, you need to be perfect and you need the other to not play at his best potential. We have a lot of players out too. If we want to have a chance, we have to be perfect. It will be very difficult but let’s pray.” Guardian Service