Fellaini's position, future up in the air entering Everton end-game
The last time Marouane Fellaini played Stoke City, back in December, he received a three-match ban for headbutting his marker, Ryan Shawcross, at a corner, and subsequently elbowing and slapping him on two separate occasions. The incident was seen as best practice for retrospective action in the case of the referee missing a key moment (in this case, several) and allowing a suitable sanction to ensue.
Fellaini also managed what could have been a negative situation very well: he was quick to apologize, and accepted his ban without question (compare this to Wigan's Callum McManaman, who seems to have been badly advised since his challenge on Newcastle's Masadio Haidara, with no public apology forthcoming).
Fellaini will not be part of the Everton side that takes on Stoke this weekend: a yellow card in his last game, the 2-0 win over Manchester City, was his 10th of the season, which automatically converts into a two-match ban. Fellaini was the main story of that win, which completed an impressive home double over the Manchester clubs this season, as he handled in the area late on, but was not called for a penalty; minutes later, he broke upfield to set up Nikica Jelavic to score the second goal.
For Everton fans, the next two games (it plays Spurs after Stoke, and Fellaini will miss that, too) could be a glimpse into next season and life after Fellaini. Everton made the right call to sell Jack Rodwell and keep hold of the Belgian midfielder last summer; and it was also right to not sell him in January, as it could have done (not all clubs make the right decision in holding onto players in January: look at Celtic, which rejected £8 million for Gary Hooper, an amount it's unlikely to get now).
Fellaini is now entering his Everton end-game: given that the team is six points off the Champions League qualification places and has the toughest fixture list to come, it may not end in fourth place. But no one can accuse him of coasting: 11 goals and eight assists is his best return in five years in England, all the more impressive as manager David Moyes has been playing him out of position.
"Last season, I played as a defensive midfielder but [this year] I have grown into a more offensive role, sometimes almost as a second striker," Fellaini explained to Belgian magazine Sport/Foot last month. "David Moyes asks me to go back to lend a hand defensively, block the opposing defensive midfielder but also to try to get in the box as much as possible. As I am now in the box, I have more opportunities."
The last time Fellaini played so high up, it was his first season at Goodison Park, and he ended up with eight goals. His favorite position remains as a defensive midfielder, but his skills there have almost been forgotten as he has done so well this campaign. Sport/Foot asked him, "What is the Fellaini style?"
He said: "I know how to win balls. I can score goals, I'm good in the air. My recovery, without being the best in the world, is good. I can pass. As an offensive midfielder, I know how to cause trouble for defenders. I'm not going to say that I cause havoc in the box, but I see that the defenders keep a close eye on me. They fear me.
"And sometimes we do not acknowledge that I know how to play football. I have improved a lot on the technical side and in keeping the ball. However, every coin has two sides. When you play too high up, you lose the aggression in the tackle to win back balls. So I start to have doubts about my original position: as defensive midfielder."
That makes things interesting for wherever he ends up next. It's expected to be Chelsea -- where fellow Belgians include Eden Hazard and on-loan trio Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne -- although given the way he destroyed United and City, don't rule out late interest from them.
But where will he play at his next club, and will he be able to make the leap from being the key player in his team to just another player? The big fish syndrome: it's easier to evaluate for strikers (success: Robin van Persie; failure: Fernando Torres) than those who play behind them, but the danger remains.
Fellaini is a rare talent, among the best in the Premier League in two different positions. His future success could depend on what position becomes his full-time one.