Marouane Fellaini made his full Manchester United debut last night in our 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen. It was both his first start for the club and his Champions League debut having never played in the group stages for Everton – but you wouldn’t have known it.
The 25-year-old stated from the off that he wanted to be a defensive midfielder at Old Trafford and that was what he did last night so effectively.
He sat very deep and put in a fantastic performance on a night where many expected him to struggle given his defensive record in the Premier League since 2008. Referees are stricter in Europe and Fellaini’s tendency to throw his elbows was seen as a potential liability going into the game, but it proved not to be a problem.
Fellaini and Carrick controlled the game. Between them, they made 32% of United’s passes (158/493) and made seven interceptions. They were the heartbeat of United moving forward and the first line of defence when Leverkusen attacked.
His passing was impressive (73/84) and only his passes in the final third let him down. Defensively, he was superb.
By sitting deep, Carrick was afforded some freedom to roam and that is something that could prove so effective for United over the course of the season.
The steel he provided gave United a midfield presence that they have struggled without in Europe for years. For the majority of the match, United dictated the tempo. It was in complete contrast to the majority of our performances in Europe in the last two seasons, where we have visibly struggled to stay in control of a game.
“It’s my first game in the Champions League so I am happy to play,” he said after the final whistle.
“We won and that is good for the confidence for the next game because that is a derby and a big game for Man United.”
“I play with top players – Rooney, Van Persie, Valencia, Kagawa, Carrick, so it is easy for me to play.”
Fellaini proved that he is more than capable of taking his game and adapting it to the rigours of Champions League football.
Leverkusen are no pushover but Carrick and Fellaini dominating the midfield battle (NB – Leverkusen were without their first choice central midfielders in Bender and Castro) gave United the foundation upon which the win was built.
As the competition progresses, so will the quality of the opposition but if Fellaini can put in that sort of performance on his debut in Europe against a team that finished third in the Bundesliga last year, it bodes well for United’s chances of winning the Champions League.