Fellaini provides the steel to put leaders to the sword

 

Roberto Mancini might have been upset at Marouane Fellaini's challenge on Edin Dzeko in the build-up to Darron Gibson's goal, but he cannot have been surprised. The Belgian's physical domination was the fundamental fact of this game, and he provided another reminder of the remarkable combination of physical and technical skills which he wields like a broadsword at the heart of Everton's midfield.

For much of the match, Fellaini fought a fascinating running battle with Samir Nasri, deployed last night at the core rather than the periphery of City's midfield. The irony is that Fellaini's and Nasri's lives and careers have been notably matched so far.

Born within five months of each other in 1987, they are both Europeans of Maghreb heritage. They both impressed for their first clubs with a nous and maturity which is not seen in all teenage midfielders, before coming to the Premier League in the summer of 2008. They both play with a canny and not always angelic approach to the opposition. The most obvious differences are in hair and size.

Last night Nasri had the best of the opening exchanges. He was moving swiftly and instinctively, dropping back into space and starting attacks in the way that new signing David Pizarro ought to do at City. One forward pass after 20 minutes sent David Silva through, leading to Dzeko winning a corner though he might have done better than that.

Nasri's orchestration helped City to dominate the ball. Everton were pinned back and Sergio Aguero missed an inviting chance to give City the lead. The closest they came to scoring all night was when Nasri, one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the league, saw an opportunity from 30 yards. He swung through the ball with characteristic clarity and force, only to see his shot threaten to leave a hole in the crossbar, rather than the net.

That was Nasri's and City's finest moment of the night; from then on it was Fellaini's game, and Everton's. In truth this rebalancing had started 10 minutes before, with a delightful piece of Fellaini skill.

With the ball loose just outside Everton's area, and James Milner threatening, Fellaini pirouetted the ball away from him to launch an attack. It was an exceptional piece of football, a trick made famous by the most imperious European midfielder of North African heritage, and one which will have brought memories for Evertonians.

Just over two years ago Everton won this fixture 2-0. One of the highlights was Fellaini performing an even tighter version of that same turn to beat Craig Bellamy.

Last night's repetition of the act, both for its aesthetics and its resonances, inspired Fellaini, Everton and the fans to better things. Rather than sticking to the fringe of his own box, he started to bound up and down the pitch like Yaya Touré, in whose absence Fellaini was free to strut and enforce unchallenged.

Joleon Lescott had to head out a free-kick which Fellaini was threatening. Vincent Kompany then let Fellaini shoot from wide from a smart Denis Stracqualursi header.

Of course, City's attacks needed repelling, but Fellaini is able to rival even Nigel de Jong, on the bench last night, as the league's leading master of destruction. He might have been booked for a tackle on Nasri, but was not. Then, just before the break, he won consecutive tackles on Aguero, Nasri and James Milner, in a flurry of force.

By the start of the second half Fellaini was in full flight, and 15 minutes after the break another robust challenge set up the winning goal. He felled Dzeko on the half-way line, and surged forward towards Leighton Baines, whose cross reached Landon Donovan, and then Darron Gibson, and it was 1-0.

From there, Fellaini was the most important player on the pitch. He protected Everton's lead like a frantic and anxious parent, making tackles and blocks everywhere, stopping a swerving Aguero run, and then, with a crucial steal, denying, naturally, Nasri in front of goal.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there