Marouane Fellaini
Marouane Fellaini has scored four goals this season for Manchester UnitedGetty Images

Former Manchester United defender Phil Neville has praised Marouane Fellaini for putting a dismal debut season under David Moyes at Old Trafford behind him to become a key asset in manager Louis van Gaal's plans.

The 27-year-old versatile midfielder moved to Old Trafford in the summer of 2013 for a £27.5m ($40.5m) after a sensational season at Everton under Moyes, scoring 11 Premier League goals.

But even though he was tipped to become a crucial player at United, the Belgium international struggled to replicate the same form at Old Trafford, failing to score a single goal in the whole season, while he was mocked by some of his own fans.

He was even expected to leave the club in the summer of 2014 as part of Van Gaal's clear-out but he stayed at Old Trafford where has managed to build on his career.

Even though Fellaini missed the first games of the season due to injury, he has scored four goals in 11 Premier League starts, including the opener during his impressive performance against Tottenham on 15 March.

Phil Neville believes the midfielder is a crucial player in United's bid for the Champions League after being ridiculed during his first year at the club.

"There were lots of positives for Manchester United to take away from their impressive win over Tottenham but the most pleasing thing for me was to see Marouane Fellaini get a standing ovation when he came off near the end," he said to the BBC. "It was something he fully deserved, the same as it had been for Juan Mata a few minutes earlier.

"I was at United as a coach when both players were signed and neither of them have had an easy time of it at Old Trafford. Last season, Fellaini was probably getting ridiculed a lot of the time. People were saying that he is not a United player. The way he has come back from that has been fantastic."

Neville believes Van Gaal's decision to give him more freedom to move around the attack has been key to Fellaini's improvement.

"You also have to give United manager Louis van Gaal a lot of credit. He has not been afraid of playing to Fellaini's strengths, despite being criticised for doing so, and I think he has come up trumps," he said.

"He is developing a really good partnership with Wayne Rooney and probably the only thing that has been missing from his game recently has been goals - for me he has not scored enough this season. Fellaini put that right against Spurs, and United saw the benefits of playing him in a position that suits him - he needs to have that freedom to get forward and get on the far post."