Marouane Fellaini gave Manchester United a commanding 3-1 lead going into the second leg of their Champions League playoff at Club Brugge, and Louis van Gaal has suggested he could be a long-term solution to the team’s scoring struggles. Serving a three-game domestic suspension, Fellaini made an impact in his first appearance of the season when scoring an injury-time goal after coming on to replace Wayne Rooney up front.
Rooney has yet to find the target this campaign, while Manchester United have scored just twice in three Premier League games after being held to a goalless draw at home to Newcastle United on Saturday. Those woes have led many to call for United to sign a forward before the transfer window closes next week. But Van Gaal has repeatedly claimed that he has enough options at his disposal, with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and James Wilson backing up Rooney. And now he has made it clear that he also sees Fellaini as a player to be counted upon going forward.
“He can play in a nine position and a 10,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “He can also play six and eight, but this year he shall play more at 10 and nine than at six and eight because there we have other players.”
Having arrived from Everton with David Moyes, Fellaini became the player most singled out for criticism during a disastrous season that saw Manchester United fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 19 years. But he scored six Premier League goals last term and was an influential, if unorthodox, figure in United finishing fourth to earn a shot at getting back at Europe’s top table. With United facing the prospect of taking only a narrow lead to Belgium after Memphis had scored twice to overcome the blow of the concession of an early own goal, his impact was key last week, too. Fellaini’s late header, against a club managed by his former coach at Standard Liege, Michel Preud’homme, means United now have comfortable cushion as they look to seal their place in the lucrative group stage.
Having conceded just one goal in four games so far this season, United will be confident of preventing a calamitous defeat at the Jan Breydel Stadium, in what Van Gaal has called his most important match since taking charge. There is unlikely to be any changes to the back five that has lined up in each game so far this season. David de Gea has been left at home amid the continued uncertainty over a potential transfer to Real Madrid. Defenders Phil Jones, still suffering from mild thrombosis, and Marcos Rojo, yet to get up to full fitness, also failed to make the trip.
Club Brugge’s list of absentees remains far more severe. Already missing key attacking duo Lior Rafaelov and José Izquierdo, among others, last season’s Belgian Pro League runners-up will now be without veteran captain Timmy Simons after he picked up an injury at Old Trafford. Defender Brandon Mechele will also be absent through suspension.
The problems have taken their toll on Brugge, with their mixed start to the season continuing with a 2-0 defeat at Zulte Waregem on Saturday. And Preud’homme admits that his side require something special in order to make the Champions League group stage for the first time in a decade.
“We are very realistic,” he said, reports Club Brugge’s official website. “My colleague Louis van Gaal has a very strong outfit with lots of quality in his ranks. Last week, Memphis Depay made the difference with some flashes of genius, my dear friend Marouane Fellaini putting the icing on top. We put in a good performance last week, though. If we want to stand the slightest of chances and go for a miracle, my players will have to put in the perfect performance. The speed of execution will be instrumental.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1