MAROUANE Fellaini’s timing might be considered either impeccable or unfortunate.
The Manchester United midfielder has returned from a three-month injury absence just in time for back-to-back games at Old Trafford on which the troubled season for David Moyes’ team seems certain to pivot. If Fellaini proves instrumental both in helping United defeat Liverpool in the league this afternoon and securing a result that allows them to overhaul a 2-0 deficit against Olympiakos in their last 16 Champions League tie, then the 26-year-old will have at last made the impact on his debut season that has, as yet, desperately eluded him. If Fellaini flops along with his team-mates, once more questions will mount over Moyes’ accession to Sir Alex Ferguson’s throne, and why he paid £27 million for the Belgian internationalist to follow him from Everton last summer.
With United having proved remarkably durable in Europe in the past, performing an escapology act against the Greeks would appear a more likely prospect than using Liverpool as a launchpad to leap into the Champions League-earning fourth spot in the Premier League, Moyes’ team being currently two places adrift of what was previously a guaranteed rather than a promised land for the club. As he promoted his new Warrior boots in Glasgow this week, there was nothing about the tenor of Fellaini’s conversation that suggested the big-haired, big-framed Belgian of Moroccan descent would disagree with such an assessment.
“Of course it is possible that we can go through [to the Champions League quarter-finals] because, in football, you never know. We are playing at home, our supporters will be behind us and we have the talent to beat them,” he said. “In Greece they pressed high, were aggressive and played well but in terms of Man United, it was a very bad day for us. I don’t think it will be the same at home. We will be ready for that.”
The Liverpool game that is Fellaini’s first priority he considers “almost like a derby”. Of course, as a former Everton man, the games he played against the Anfield club in the past were the real thing in terms of a local rivalry. He had mixed success in such encounters, but none in one area. “I have never scored against Liverpool and it would be great to do it on Sunday,” he said, Belgian international team-mate Simon Mingolet the man he would have to beat in the visitors’ goal to open his account. “Back home in Belgium, Liverpool are considered to be one of the biggest clubs, partly because of their history but also because they are playing so well at the moment. Our team is working hard and taking it game by game but this is a must-win match for us. Everyone wants to play in the Champions League and we will fight for it.”
Ahead of the World Cup, there seems to be a number of countries involved in a fight to persuade United wunderkind Adnan Januzaj to commit to playing for them. Januzaj was born and raised in Belgium and is ethnic Kosovar-Albanian, with Turkish grandparents, resulting in his eligibility for a number of different national teams. “We want him to play for Belgium because he has many qualities – he can decide the outcome of games,” Fellaini said. “Have I tried to persuade him to join us? I talk with him and I have given him my opinion. He could be a star at the World Cup for us but he has to make a choice.” The choice for Moyes’ men this week is whether all hopes for the season are surrendered meekly or sustained with spirit.