The Dutchman’s decision to include Fellaini was met with initial fury, with the majority of fans bemoaning Morgan Schneiderlin‘s omission for such an important game.
However, making his first start since the 1-1 draw with Liverpool in the Europa League, the Belgian gave an imposing performance. Speaking after the game, van Gaal insisted that Fellaini’s display vindicated his decision to start him.
“There is sometimes criticism on his way of playing,” said van Gaal.
“But he has certain qualities and I like that because that’s also with Andy Carroll and not many players have that quality and that’s the most important thing and that’s why he also starts for Belgium, because he has that quality.”
Fellaini’s rumbustious style – a style criticised by many – definitely served the Dutchman well in what was a must win game. The 28-year-old undoubtedly benefitted from a tweak in formation that gave him more freedom to roam forward and cause a nuisance in attack.
United fans saw Fellaini reach his zenith at the club when playing in this changed 4-3-3 formation, with Carrick as a holding midfielder and Herrera alongside the Belgian, and it’s easy to see why: most of all, it plays to his strengths of being a marauding threat through the middle, and frees him of the shackles of defensive midfield. If van Gaal is to see the best of Fellaini, much like in the latter stages of last season, then it’s imperative that he retains this adopted formation as United look for silverware.