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Why it is time to give Fellaini some credit

Liverpool-v-Manchester-United (4)Certainties were at a premium when Louis Van Gaal arrived at Manchester United in July.

Expectations and hopes abounded after a disastrous season under David Moyes, but the canvas in front of the Dutch manager was largely blank by the time he stepped into the United dressing room for the first time.

Only a few things seemed to be set in stone in the summer. Most thought the former Holland manager would embark in a spending spree, others expected him to impose his philosophy on the club and almost everyone agreed that Marouane Fellaini’s career at the club had come to an end a little short of its first anniversary.

The lanky Belgian was the ying to Van Gaal’s yang.

A footballing uncultured brute, who treated the ball with the wary approach normally reserved to barking dogs, rather than with the familiarity and comfort the Dutchman’s vision commanded.

Even more importantly, in the eyes of fans and pundits alike, Fellaini epitomised Moyes’ wretched tenure at United.

The former Everton player was, like his former manager, a man completely and utterly out of his depth at Old Trafford who soon became, admittedly not always undeservedly, the pantomime villain among United fans.

Van Gaal’s arrival, most thought, would spell the end for one of United’s worst ever signings and good riddance to those wearing those awful wigs in the stands.

Seven months later, Fellaini’s transformation is arguably only second to Ashley Young’s and while United remained far from the finished article under Van Gaal, the Belgian has been instrumental in their recent progress.

To some it might still sound like profanity but, since the turn of the year, Fellaini has been one of United’s most influential players, earning himself a spot in the starting XI with a string of impressively solid performances.

Having missed five of United’s first six league games with a malleolar injury, the Belgian was a regular between October and December, as Van Gaal reshuffled his team in a bid to accommodate two strikers up-front.

However, United’s catastrophic injury record meant that Fellaini was deployed in three different positions within two months, at times in front of the back four, often in midfield and – mercifully just in one occasion – even on the right wing.

Despite an extended run in the team, Fellaini’s admirers remained few and far between, while Van Gaal was often criticised for deploying him ahead of others, more talented, midfielders.

The Dutchman’s decision to play Fellaini was quickly mocked as long ball football and while it would be foolish to deny that United resorted to a very direct style of football in January and February, it would be ludicrous to blame Fellaini for it.

The Belgian was, after all, simply executing the orders he was given.

Of course, those who wear a red shirt are asked to improvise and create rather than merely do a job, but holding Fellaini responsible for a fault not his is simply looking for a scapegoat.

His performances against Spurs and Liverpool – as well as his excellent run of form for Belgium with three goals in the last two games – showed that Fellaini can not only offer United a different dimension in times of need, he can also be relied upon from the start.

The Belgian’s physical presence and his ability to create space for his teammates were key in helping United clinch two crucial wins and cemented his growing reputation within the team.

Fellaini is not the new Roy Keane, in fact he’s not even the new Nicky Butt, and may never be considered a “proper United player” by section of the fans, but he’s earned his right to be part of this team.

The disdain he drew last season has turned into somewhat reluctant nods of approval. Whether they’ll become rounds of applause remains to be seen, but if they do Van Gaal will have worked a minor miracle.