The Belgian has been moved around a lot since his arrival at Man United in terms of position and has been unable to earn himself an extended run in the side in one particular position. Last season, Fellaini was most effective playing in midfield and this is where van Gaal thinks he plays his best football.
The 27-year-old offers United a different option off the bench but will struggle to start in central midfield ahead of the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick. All three players are out and out central midfielders and the manager wants Fellaini to compete for a spot with the trio.
“He has to compete as a midfielder because he is more a midfielder than a striker,” said van Gaal.
“He has to compete with players in his position and I have to compare and think how we have to play and then I decide [if he will play v CSKA]. It is always like that.”
Van Gaal was happy with Fellaini after United’s last home game, a 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup and will be hoping that the former Everton man gives him a selection dilemma.
He added: “It is not a question that he does not play well because I think he was one of my better players on Wednesday [against Middlesbrough]. It is also dependable on the game plan and how I want to put my midfield out.”
Fellaini will know that, given van Gaal’s comments, he will has his work cut out for him if he is to be a regular start at United. Competing for places in the midfield could mean he does not see as much playing time as he would like but he will need to improve as a holding midfielder in order to win a regular place.