Not every tall player makes best use of his stature. Some, for instance, do not jump their height. Because they can win a fair portion of aerial duels without trying too hard, they do not work so much on leg power and on timing their leap properly to meet the ball at the highest point possible.
You could never say this about Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian may be 6ft 4in (6ft 8in with the hair), but he gets off the deck very well indeed to often launch himself head and shoulders above the opposition, making life difficult for the biggest of defenders.
Not only that, he will attack a cross aggressively, showing plenty of bravery to stick his head in where it might probably hurt. You have to want to head the ball – it is no good being half-hearted. Fellaini’s commitment shows what can be gained.
2 Chest Control
This is an invaluable asset for a team like
But before controlling the ball, the receiving player has got to make sure that his body position is right to prevent the defender from nipping in front. That often means staying side-on for as long as possible to keep tabs on your man and fend him off with an outstretched arm.
Only at the last second do you square up and back in before jumping if necessary to cushion the ball on your chest. But you have to relax, otherwise a tense frame will see the ball bounce away.
This is actually a vastly underrated skill that tends to wind up defenders no
end. Fellaini has mastered it like few others around and on Monday night
3 Link-Up Play
It is no good holding up the ball brilliantly if you cannot see the right pass. The opportunity disappears in a flash if you linger in possession at the wrong time.
Fellaini usually managed to avoid that on Monday night by impressively judging when to knock the ball off first-time and when to keep hold.
It helps to have a good understanding with team-mates, as Fellaini does with the likes of Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman.
When the ball goes into the big man, this pair can make runs off him with confidence, knowing he will not lose the ball cheaply to leave them stranded, out of position. On the contrary, Fellaini showed great awareness of what was happening around him with some subtle flicks to create several chances. If he carries on like this, Pienaar and Osman can both reach double figures.
4 A Sure Touch
This, of course, goes hand in hand with link-up play. One without the other just does not add up.
I hate the term ‘a good touch for a big man’ because there is no reason at all why a 6ft-plus footballer should not be able to control the ball as well as someone smaller. Fellaini proved that against United.
Having shown the strength to hold off his man, he invariably sucked the ball into his body via a delicate touch. This is all the more impressive when you remember that the former Standard Liège man was brought to Goodison Park principally as a midfielder. His normal game does not, therefore, encompass receiving the ball under pressure with his back to goal.
But Fellaini has adapted superbly to a new role that initially came about because Everton’s manager, David Moyes, was desperately short on strikers. Though he is not so much now, the manager looks unlikely to change a winning formula.