Ahead of our trip to West Ham this week the bulk of our preparations will concern who fills the void Fellaini’s three game exile has created. The void is a tricky one given the bespoke slant on a number 10 we have in our system.
When you think of a number ten playing between the lines of midfield and attack you think of a Riquelme or a Sneijder type player with good feet that receives the ball centrally, plays facing the opposition goal and who is capable of threading a through pass to a striker. Our 3/4 forward role is a different proposition entirely as its more about physique and playing with your back to goal; basically less about brains and more about brawn.
We attack down the flanks and not centrally hence hardly any of our goals come from through passes and most are scored via headers or from crosses. Fellaini gives our defence the option to go long quickly, will link up with the wide men and then get into the box on the end of things i.e the finisher not the provider of the classic number ten model. For example, Fellaini only played 3 passes to Jelavic in the entire 90 minutes against Spurs last week whilst he totalled 23 passing combinations with Pienaar and Baines.
There appears 4 main options for fellaini’s replacement this weekend; Naismith, Barkley, Osman and Pienaar. Here is my lowdown on the 4 options;
The Outsider – Ross Barkley
Master Barkley has played just 30 minutes of competitive action in Fellaini’s role in ‘the hole’ as a sub last season at home to Fulham. Although he is only a young tyke he is the tallest of the four players and also has an edge on Osman and Pienaar in that he has played as a striker as a youth so can provide the flexibility of moving from a 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 when we have the ball as Fellaini does. He also brings the element of the unknown Allardyce will not have covered in his prozone laboratory briefings this week.
Weakness wise, despite his exposure to rats like Michael Brown during his loan spell at Sheff Wed he is still a tad wet behind the ears defensively and Moyes still appears undecided if he can be risked in a central slot. If deployed, it’s probably more likely to be on the right flank where he featured as a sub last week at Stoke.
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The Possible – Leon Osman
A feasible option given that he has started more games in this slot under Moyes than anyone with the exception of Cahill. Has the passing capability and the know how to find space and dribble into dangerous areas of the final third and can sometimes pick out a decent shot – although not for a while. This trickery could be useful and expose the lack of nimbleness in West Ham’s centre back duo. He also has the best passing accuracy in the final third of the candidates and is the most prolific shooter although he has the worst accuracy.
On a negative, his combination with Gibson in central midfield is good and disrupting this rhythm could cause issues further back with Hitzlsperger likely to deputise in midfield. Ossie also has a very productive record against likely starter James Collins which may get him the nod for this weekend.
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The Best Fit – Steven Naismith
Naismith is a different cat altogether and my preferred option. ‘Naisy’ has played a similar role at Rangers supporting Jelavic where he created 5 of Jela’s 36 Gers goals. He is comfortable in handling the shift from forward to midfielder during possession transitions and is the most able at harrying and chasing and generally putting in ‘a shift’ when we are not in possession e.g winning free kicks. He also has the knack of finding time and space in the box and is more likely than anyone to benefit from playing more centrally by popping up with a goal. He has the best shooting accuracy and the best record at winning headers
Negatives wise, with Mirallas out there is no other right sided midfielder unless you try Oviedo or Barkley but both are square pegs in this wide berth. Naismith is also less incisive and less able to dribble past a player but if you’re attacking down the flanks this isn’t such a problem.
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Probably the closest we have to a genuine ‘Number 10’ so would appear the natural selection if the side played through the middle. On a plus, it makes sense to have your most incisive and creative midfielder playing as close as possible to your lone striker. Pienaar creates a chance more frequently than the other candidates but a lot of this is down to the combination play he has with Baines on the left flank.
On the negative side, it hasn’t really worked out when he’s filled in centrally this season in spells against Leeds, QPR and Norwich and it also minimises the balance and potency of his mate Leighton Baines as Oviedo would rather hug the touch line which condenses the space available for Baines.
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Steven Naismith is my choice in the ‘Fellaini’ role, with Pienaar retained on the left and either Barkley or Oviedo on the right. There will more than likely be flexibility between the 3 but Naismith is the ‘best fit’ we have to Fellaini.
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