Marouane Fellaini has been in great form lately playing a key role in Everton’s annual mid season up turn in form as the Blues close in on a trip to Wembley. This post will take a look at the Big Belgian’s aggressive style, his strengths and weaknesses and ponder if the club’s record signing is the league’s most aggressive ball winner from central midfield….
Fellaini’s unquestionable talent is in terms of his physical stature and aggression to win the ball back from opponents. As shown below, he makes a tackle every 30minutes which is the most of any midfielder at the club. Fellaini is very much the club’s number one presser; the curly haired general is ranked 6th highest central midfielder for tackles in the league (63), and makes more fouls per game (2.4 ) in the top flight. He is also joint top with Blackburn’s N’Zonzi in the top flight for aerial duels won by a central midfielder. Due to his physique he offers great protection when he wins the ball and is capable of shielding it securely so if you don’t get to the ball first opponents are best served by standing off him and narrowing the angle for the pass.
The below table shows his stats compared with his central midfield partners Darron Gibson and Jack Rodwell this season…
Fellaini’s athleticism is there for all to see; he is in the top 1% of midfielders in terms of energy and distance covered during matches. He has the 4th highest average distance run per game in the top flight, clocking up a whopping 6.65 miles per match. His notable marathon matches this season include 7.5 miles in the derby defeat and 7mile+ outings in the away games at Man City and Fulham. He is also more than useful in the opposition box despite often playing quite deep….he made it into double figures for goals in his first season on Merseyside and has scored in all 3 competitions this campaign. Perhaps the biggest impact he makes in the final third though is in terms of attracting the attention of several markers / blockers and causing general chaos particularly at set pieces.
His aggression in positioning can sometimes leave ‘the back door’ open as Mikel Arteta found last season in having to do more defensive shifts than perhaps he would have liked to cover Fellaini’s aggressive pressing up field. Gibson more so than Rodwell seems happy to sit and allow Fellaini to press the opposition further up field. There is perhaps a question mark over the Belgian’s motivation when you see the way he can dominate big games (Arsenal away last season) and yet be less influential against some of the league’s lesser lights. I guess this focus and discipline will develop more as he matures as a player in the coming years.
There is strong evidence that the weak points in Fellaini’s game have been remedied this campaign. On the ball, he can make mistakes; for example he has been dispossessed more times (42) than any other player in our squad. Due to his frame he was often an easy target for shorter more mobile players to dribble past, especially in his debut season when he was dribbled every73 mins by opponents This campaign it takes 92 minutes for an opponent to dribble past him – a marked improvement. He is still the most dribbled player at the club though, having been bypassed 21 times this season. His pass completion since he came to the club prior to this season has averaged at 75% whilst this season it has been steady at 79% – again, a tidy improvement. I would still say this is an area of his game he could improve – he is never going to be a Pirlo or Modric style regista – but there is certainly room for improvement in terms of his longer range distribution and incision in passing rather than playing the easy ball.
Do these qualities make Fellaini the most aggressive presser in the top flight then? The below ‘Press-ometer’ is based the amount of pressure ‘contacts’ a central midfielder makes in a match. Pressing contacts are divided into 4 key areas; ground tackles, aerial pressure (headers won), Interceptions made (in terms of pressing the space) and also fouls committed. For each one of these a player makes per game on average they get 1 contact. Obviously there are a lot of caveats which need to be included here; none of which I can be bothered going into in any detail so I’ll let you judge for yourselves….
The press-ometer may have Marouanne in 2nd spot in terms of aggression from the centre of midfield but Fellaini is certainly the main man in Everton’s midfield engine room and with his year on year improvement there is no doubt his aggressive playing style will again be pivotal in Everton realising their key targets at the business end of the season.