By James Kinsella

It is fair to say Marouane Fellaini has never won over the Manchester United fans and he has certainly been at the receiving end of a lot of flak delivered by supporters of the Old Trafford club.

The Belgian had received some lukewarm praise following United’s first three Premier League games this season, which they won, but the knives were sharpened once again following the derby-day defeat to Manchester City.

Poor performances against Feyenoord and Watford did little to stop the abuse.

The fans are not alone; lots of pundits, experts and ex-players have also been quick to criticise Fellaini’s performances.

Ex-Liverpool player Jamie Carragher has been consistently expressing the opinion he is not good enough for a United team.

Gary Neville, the former Red Devils player, has been similarly outspoken and another Old Trafford legend in Paul Scholes was damning in his verdict on the Belgian’s position in the United squad.

One thing that is certain is that United have not got the right balance in midfield so far this season and there are options for a Jose Mourinho in that position.

Sir Alex Ferguson trusted Michael Carrick in that position for many seasons and David Moyes, who was responsible for Fellaini coming to Manchester, generally preferred Carrick in the holding midfield position – Louis Van Gaal did much the same.

Carrick has had some injury troubles and is now 34 so Mourinho may feel he will now struggle to keep up with the pace of the Premier League.

With Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly likely to be the long term centre-back partnership, Daley Blind would be keen to stake a claim for the holding midfield role – he hasn’t played there very often for United but has been impressive there in the past for Ajax and The Netherlands.

Morgan Schneiderlin is another option although he has not had a lot of strong performances in a United shirt and is more a box-to-box midfielder than a holding midfielder.

So the fans don’t like him, pundits don’t rate him and there are alternatives with the squad but managers keep picking him.

Three men in the Old Trafford hotseat have now picked the Belgian regularly, as have a string of national team managers in a very talented Belgium squad.

Fellaini certainly is a physical presence and adds an aerial threat, his chest control is second-to-none and his link-up play can be tidy.

Roy Keane, who played in this role as United captain for so many years, has defended the much-maligned midfielder and feels there are a number of offending culprits who are underperforming to a higher degree.

“I saw him a few times live when United weren’t great and thought he did okay,” the Irishman told the assembled press during Euro 2016.

“But he seemed to be the scapegoat for the fans, which can happen when a new manager brings in certain players and the new signings get criticism.

“If anything, the fans should have been criticising the experienced players at United who weren’t helping him out.”

Fellaini’s days in the Manchester United’s starting XI though must surely be numbered.

It was somewhat surprising that he has been in the Portuguese manager’s early season plans after he was widely tipped to be moved-on in the summer.

His early performances were competent, but not outstanding, in games where United controlled the tempo and Fellaini had time and space to move the ball around and had little to do in terms of protecting his back four.

His tactical and positional ineptitude against City allowed space in front of his back four which Kevin De Bruyne and company wilfully exploited and his clumsiness in defence led to two late goals against Watford causing back-to-back league defeats.

Carrick should be brought in after a masterful display in control, tempo and forward passing in the EFL Cup, albeit against League One Northampton.

Fellaini is unlikely to get much game time further up the pitch.

It would appear that United fans will get their wish in the near future and the Belgian will leave the club – there will be more than few fans saying good riddance.

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