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Barkley could upstage Fellaini on his big night

When Manchester United do battle with Everton in the Premier League tonight, there’ll be plenty on the line.

The fixture is an important chance for both teams to pick up points, and it will also be the first time that former Toffees manager David Moyes and star midfielder Marouane Fellaini will line up against their former colleagues.

Fellaini in particular has struggled since his big-money move from Goodison Park, and is starting to attract increasing pressure on him to perform.

The bustling Belgian has created just one goalscoring chance all season (the fewest out of any midfielder in the United squad) and hasn’t found the back of the net either.

He has struggled to adjust alongside the likes of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley and, in recent weeks, has found himself dropped by Moyes in preference of Phil Jones.

Man Utd top midfield performers (based on Performance Score)

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However, with Jones suspended and Carrick injured, Fellaini should return to the starting team, and United fans will be desperately hoping for a resurgence in his form—particularly when it comes to his totals duels won this year, with both his tackle success rate and take-on success rate (42 percent and 43 percent respectively) nowhere near what is expected.

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Fellaini has been a strong passer of the ball, though, with one of the highest pass competition percentages across United midfielders, which Moyes will again be hoping to see this week.

Manchester United's most accurate midfielders, 2013/14 Season

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Yet while all of the attention might be on the return of Fellaini, the star to come out of the midfield on Wednesday may well be Ross Barkley.

The teenager has revelled in Fellaini’s absence this season—taking up much of the responsibility in creating chances and directing Everton’s attack—and has quickly become one of the club’s most influential attackers. Barkley has a higher Total Performance Score than any other Toffees midfielder, with two goals and nine goalscoring chances created this season.

Everton's top performing midfielders, 2013/14 season

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Unlike Fellaini, Barkley has been very impressive in terms of his total duels won—winning 59 percent of his attempted challenges. His tackle success rate is low (winning just 33 percent) but what will no doubt please Roberto Martinez is his willingness to try and turn the ball over in the middle of the field. Barkley has attempted 30 tackles this year, which is a good number for a player largely in the team for his attacking contributions.

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Barkley has shown great willingness (and effectiveness) when running at defenders this season, completing a very strong 35 of his 53 attempted take-ons, and you’d have to expect such a trend to continue this week.

Manchester United haven’t been great defensively, and given Fellaini’s struggles to win back possession in terms of his tackling, there may be a weakness for Barkley to exploit as he seeks to get between the lines.

Only Andros Townsend has completed more take-ons this term than Barkley.

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The youngster was very impressive alongside summer signing James McCarthy against Liverpool late last month, and it appears likely that Martinez will again utilise this partnership as he seeks to lessen the impact that Fellaini might have.

Whether Moyes’ prized recruit can manage to break those shackles or not still remains to be seen but, either way, it promises to be an intriguing battle and one that will go a long way to determining a victor on the night.