For several years now, Chelsea have been linked with Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini. The Fellaini talk all started when Phil Jagielka was asked about Marouane, as was noted over at Royal Blue Mercy. Fellaini is an interesting player, as frankly there just aren't many comparable players out there. At 24, the Everton man should just now be reaching his prime. If you want to believe the tabloids, Chelsea are interested for about £20 million. This could simply be speculation because of the Jagielka comments, but with our longstanding interest being well known it may make some sense. Also of interest is the fact that the new 5 year deal Fellaini signed has a rumored buyout of £24 million, a figure which would certainly make a pursuit of Fellaini somewhat less frustrating if he's the guy we really want. Fellaini plays in the Premier League, so I'm going to assume that most of you are already somewhat familiar with him. With that in mind, I'm going to change the format of this a bit from the way I usually do these profiles.
In looking back on this season, I really felt that one of the things that led to Chelsea being as disappointing in the league was the lack of players who could cause real problems for their opponents to match up with. Over the past 8 seasons, Chelsea have had Didier Drogba causing matchup nightmares for the opposition center backs. They've had Michael Essien and Ashley Cole, defensively excellent players who covered so much ground that opponents couldn't account for them easily. They've had guys like Robben or Joe Cole that just couldn't be given space to touch the ball for fear of what they might create. Guys like Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda were able to excel because of this, creeping into great scoring positions after the defense had to adjust to these guys. It also forced the opposition to play far more conservatively, allowing Chelsea to control possession that much more.
I'd be a huge advocate of a Fellaini signing because I feel he adds something similar to Chelsea. Graham and I had a little discussion just after the Champions League final, and I actually went as far as to mention him as one of my top 4 transfer targets this summer. He doesn't fill a pressing tactical need, but I feel like he's the type of player that will vastly improve the overall quality of the squad. Having said that, I guess it's time for me to break down what it is about Fellaini that I like so much and why I feel he'd be such a valuable addition.
First and foremost, Fellaini is a unique midfielder. Standing 194 cm tall (6'5"), Fellaini is a rarity in the fact that he towers over most of his midfield opposition. He generally looks like a man among boys in this regard, and he's an absolute monster in the air. He's also fairly strong, and he rarely gets pushed out of position. He's one of the elite tacklers in the game, and he's got a nose for picking off passes. This blend of size and skill screams world class holding midfielder, and he's very good in that regard.
That in and of itself isn't enough to make me drool over Fellaini, but it's his fantastic work rate that makes him so appealing to me. Many times, big guys tend to be slow and run out of gas when asked to cover loads of ground. This is just not the case here, as Fellaini tends to be somewhat wasted in a strict holding role because of his ability to make surging runs regularly. When employed as a lone holder this tends to allow space for a team quick to counter. Prior to this season, Fellaini was rarely given that opportunity due to the composition of the Everton midfield. After Mikel Arteta was sold to Arsenal, Everton finally altered their tactics to allow Fellaini to shine.
Everton used him primarily in a box to box role this year, and he was easily one of the best players on the pitch for the bulk of those games. This position would occasionally see him take up a role as a striker, immediately adding a significant aerial threat to the attack. In this role he proved to be more than capable of providing an outlet for holdup play, something which is becoming increasingly hard to find in the modern game. His first touch is excellent, and if he was a better finisher he'd have likely moved to the center of the attack long ago.
Here's a look at what happened when David Moyes decided to move Marouane a bit further up the pitch against Manchester United earlier this season. This was linked in a fanpost, but it's a great look at the towering Belgian and his all around game:
This is not to say that Fellaini doesn't have his weaknesses. Fellaini fouls a lot, likely a result of his combination of his physical supremacy, willingness to tackle, and his ability to cover enough ground to make large amounts of challenges. The good thing about his fouling is that it rarely results in bookings. Most refs seem to realize that there is no intent to most of these fouls, as Fellaini actually fouls at a very low rate per every tackle he attempts. That said, Chelsea have been dodgy in defending set pieces this season, although Fellaini should help to correct that problem.
He's a solid, dependable passer most of the time. He'll usually take the safe route in this regard though, rarely firing long balls or trying risky through balls. That type of play is just fine, but an exceptional passer from a deeper role is something Chelsea have been sorely lacking for some time. While it's possible that adding Fellaini to a team with more attacking talent will suddenly make him less reluctant to pass in this manner, I'd say it's likely that we'd just have to accept the fact that he's generally not a "creative" player. If you're among the ranks that feels we should only be focusing on that type of player, Fellaini is not for you.
He's also not a great dribbler, something common to taller players. He at least seems to realize this, often quickly moving the short pass to teammates more suited to having the ball at their feet. Fellaini will win lots of balls and help retain possession, but he'll rarely be the player that unlocks a packed defense unless he's the target of an aerial ball.
When all is said and done, the package that Fellaini provides is one that I think would shine at a club with more talent around him. Fellaini is among the elite ball winners in the modern game, but he's not limited to that role alone. He's versatile enough to allow the squad to change tactics without making a substitution. He provides yet another dangerous target from set pieces, something that the opposition always needs to take into consideration when selecting their lineup. His ability to contribute to the attack with his surging runs will provide a dangerous target for crosses, and his ability to protect the center of the midfield on his own will allow any partner to make runs of their own.
Being at Everton allowed him plenty of opportunity to showcase his skill, but in my opinion, moving to Chelsea would allow him to flourish. There's so much attacking talent in front of him that he'd likely find more space to make runs into. He'd likely have more opportunities to contribute offensively on set pieces, as more attacking generally means more corners. Fellaini provides a world class skill to fill a role (ball winning) and an additional marking nightmare (aerial ability) that will force other teams to adjust their approach to games. Teams could adjust to that against Everton, as they just didn't have many of these types of problem players. After the additions Chelsea have made thus far this summer, they are starting to have enough of these types of players that opponents just won't be able to focus on everyone. Guys that create matchup problems will make players like Hazard and Mata even more dangerous than they already are, and given that we employ both of those guys I'd love to see us go hard for Fellaini. £20 million for the Everton man? I'm fine with that.