Marouane Fellaini’s knacked his knee and looks like he will be out for three weeks.
In which case we can confidently predict ‘Fellaini In Race For Derby Fitness’ headlines in the coming weeks. On here if nowhere else.
The Belgian’s absence will certainly be a blow, even for the visit to Loftus Road, never mind the Liverpool game, because he brings qualities to the team that no one else in the squad can really replicate. Victor Anichebe, for instance, seems to represent the closest thing to a direct replacement in that he is a large forward player, but for all his bulk and strength the Nigerian is relatively weak in the air. He certainly isn’t the target-man Fellaini is, in terms of getting the end of crosses – he very rarely scores with his napper – or even when holding the ball up with his back to goal.
Fellaini’s greatest strength is probably his ability to control the ball at any awkward height, wriggle away from opponents and pass the ball simply to a teammate. In fact, for someone who played most of his career in front of the back four it is quite remarkable how he has developed those skills – Peter Crouch is possibly the only player in the Premier League who does it even nearly as well.
For all Everton’s slick passing this season they are never shy of hitting Fellaini with a long pass – in fact this ability to vary their play is one of the keys to the great early form – and they will miss that option in his absence. When the ball is knocked up to Fellaini the midfielders begin to make runs before it has even hits its target, confident in his ability to get it under control and find a blue shirt. As a result they are able to steal a vital yard on their opponents.
With Anichebe, or indeed any of the other Fellaini replacements, there isn’t that same trust. Teammates get caught on their heels as they wait that vital fraction of a second to see whether the ball will stick or carom wildly off his shin, leaving them to turn around and cover while he spends a moment punching the ground and beseeching the heavens.
Another alternative is to deploy – ‘deploy’, get us! – Steven Naismith on the right and move Kevin Mirallas up front alongside Nikica Jelavic. Apparently the Belgian has played that role before, and let’s be honest he has the ability to operate wherever he likes to a degree, but in the match against Leeds United he seemed wasted battling for neck-high punts with some grewler of a centre-half.
In summary then, having forensically examined the available alternatives, it would just be better for everybody if Fellaini got better in time for the derby.
Speaking of Liverpool Football Club – when did that happen? – it is simply not possible to avoid commenting on the latest moment of Brengali genius featured in the seminal Being: Liverpool, where life imitates art that was imitating life.
You already know that this is about his three-card trick where he addressed the players before the season started and held up a triptych of sealed envelopes and declared that they included the names of three players who would let everyone down during the forthcoming season.
“Don’t let one of them be you,” is the solemn challenge.
Now, if he is Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, sat on the couch explaining to camera the brilliance behind this piece of motivational magic, his wife Clare would stare straight ahead, widen her eyes slightly and point out the following:
For a start, why three envelopes? Why not just write the three names on one piece of paper?
More importantly though, how can anyone avoid being one of the names if you have already written them down? Haven’t you declared there that it doesn’t particularly matter how they perform from now on – almost said ‘going forward’ then – as your mind is already made up? In which case haven’t you completely missed the point?
Unless of course you are once again talking utter fucking compost and everyone knows it you condescending Munchausen’s by proxy-suffering, too-tight tracky bottoms and top-button-of-your-minty-club-polo-shirt done up over your lovebeads-that-looked-shit-on-Damon-Albarn wearing windbag.
That might not be Clare verbatim, but her body language can say a lot.