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MAROUANE FELLAINI is facing a race against time to be fit for Everton’s Premier League opener against Manchester United after missing their final pre-season friendly with a groin complaint.
The influential midfielder was unable to take part in Saturday’s defeat at Malaga after suffering the injury before kick-off, and will undergo intensive treatment this week in the hope that he can face the Red Devils at Goodison.
It will represent a headache for David Moyes, whose personnel options were already depleted after he agreed to sell Jack Rodwell to Manchester City in a shock £12m move.
The 21-year-old completed his surprise switch to the Etihad stadium yesterday, with Everton’s manager ready to quickly scour the market and re-invest some of the fee on much-needed new faces including another striker and a right-sided midfielder.
Everton received the £12m up front and could receive another £4m based on add-on clauses as Rodwell progresses with City and England.
The Birkdale-born player has been at Everton since the age of seven, making his senior debut in 2007, aged 16, and was quick to thank the club for nurturing his career.
He said: “I would like to place on record my thanks to everyone at Everton Football Club. The manager has been brilliant for me and helped make me the player that I am today.
“I would like to place on record my thanks to him and all the coaching staff and players who have worked with me since I joined the academy as a seven-year-old.
“Finally, I would like to thank all the fans who have been amazing during my years at Everton. I have enjoyed every minute of my time there and I wish everyone at the club the best of luck for the new season and beyond.
“I have a special relationship with the Chairman, Mr Kenwright, who did not want me to leave but this was an opportunity I could not refuse.
“Turning to Manchester City, it is an honour to be signing for the champions. I relish the opportunity of playing with some of the best players in the world and continuing my development.”
His new manager Roberto Mancini, who is yet to win at Goodison, was less gracious. He said: “It’s a good player for our future. It’s the first time he is at a club that plays to win, and it will be different for him. But I’m sure that in a couple of years he will be a top, strong midfielder.”
The Blues were taking the positives from their narrow defeat by La Liga side Malaga at La Rosaleda stadium.
Assistant manager Steve Round said: “We got a very good, very tough workout. They’re a good team – we knew that and that’s why we took the game so close to the season starting.
“We thought we’d done enough to get a draw but Malaga finished high in their league and they’ve got some talented players.”
IT WAS party time in Malaga – but not for Everton.
As the annual Feria De Agosto lit up the Andalucian town on Saturday night the Blues ended their pre-season preparations on a more subdued note, even if this work-out was more productive than the result suggests.
They might have missed out on claiming the bizarrely huge Costa del Sol trophy by losing a hotly-contested friendly with the Spaniards, but Everton at least displayed enough to suggest they could prosper on the continent again one day.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side finished fourth in La Liga last season and are only a qualifying round from making the Champions League, so even though they hover on the brink of financial meltdown thanks to their Qatari owner’s unrest, they were formidable opponents.
In the close, balmy heat of a night at La Rosaled, a Everton were shown the finer points of how to retain possession, but were far from just admiring also-rans in the face of the hosts’ slick passing game.
The home side certainly hogged the early possession but Everton were well organised and effective defensively, forcing them out wide and clearing the resulting crosses comfortably.
Everton also worked the ball nicely in midfield, Steven Naismith’s quick feet drawing a foul from Enzo Maresca and allowing Nikica Jelavic to suggest there is more in his locker than clinical close range finishes by thundering a right-footed free kick narrowly over the bar from 25 yards.
And just moments later the Croatian, who failed to score in pre-season, swapped passes with Steven Pienaar and bore down on goal only to be adjudged as offside as he tested the host’s goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
Undeterred Everton strung together another promising move involving a marauding Leighton Baines and Leon Osman but Naismith slipped in the area as he was about to shoot.
The game was nicely poised at half time, even if the hosts could claim to have enjoyed more of the ball but they stepped it up after the break as danger-man Joaquin again tested Howard.
But it was a pleasingly open affair with attacking nous from both sides, and on the counter attack Everton soon had the ball in the back of the net via Jelavic, even if the striker was given off-side again by the flag-happy assistant referee.
Then savvy link-up between Baines, Pienaar and Osman ended with the latter bringing a save out of Caballero, as the visitors began to show their own finesse.
So it would have infuriated Moyes when his side allowed Malaga to take the lead courtesy of slack marking. The Anchovies took a free kick from the right and as Everton’s back four switched off, skipper Weligton rose powerfully to head home.
Not good enough – and the sort of error Manchester United will punish a week today.
Ross Barkley replaced the tiring Jelavic and almost scored with his first touch, a looping header after he connected with Pienaar’s free kick.
For Barkley the coming season has just got even more interesting. Jack Rodwell’s £12m departure to Manchester City has presented him with a real opportunity to push for a place in Moyes’ starting line-up.
Skipper Phil Neville might have had to bashfully accept a runners-up trophy on the pitch afterwards, but there were enough signs to suggest Everton could have more to be proud about next term.
Much will depend on how Moyes is able to re-invest some of the money the club will receive for Rodwell, but even if Everton couldn’t get in the fiesta spirit in Malaga this time, his transfer acumen could yet pave the way for more balmy European nights.