Everton face Manchester United this weekend in a huge clash as David Moyes makes his first visit to Goodison Park since ending his 11-year reign at the club last season. He has struggled in his first year at Old Trafford and even lost his first game against his old club earlier in the season.
Bryan Oviedo scored a late winner at Old Trafford to dampen the mood even further among the Reds.
Moyes doesn't have a great rapport with the Everton faithful after some choice words this season, and one of his big mistakes in the last year of his time at the club was not giving Ross Barkley a proper chance, so some say.
Barkley has been a revelation this season and has scored five goals in an exciting Everton side. They attack at will and play excellent, dynamic football. Roberto Martinez has really developed the Blues, and Barkley's precocious talent is at the focal point of it.
His technique and talent beyond his years have pushed him towards a potential place in England's World Cup squad for this summer's tournament in Brazil.
With Manchester United travelling to Merseyside this weekend, Barkley will come up against his former boss and have a point to prove. Much has been said about United's lack of midfield this season and the weaknesses in Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick et al.
The former two have come in line for the most stick this season, with Cleverley the scapegoat for much of the season's poor results.
Barkley has been linked with a move to United, but if he were to move to Old Trafford in the summer, would he improve the midfield? And if so, by how much exactly?
Creatively speaking, Ross Barkley is much more accomplished than all of United's current midfielders. The only player who comes close to him is Juan Mata who pretty much usurps Barkley in all categories due to his superb ability to weave chances from nothing and his experience at doing so at the top level.
It would be a tad unfair to compare Barkley to Mata as the Spaniard is the type of player—and the level—that the Englishman is aiming for.
Per 90 minutes, Barkley creates 0.99 chances this season. That's the same as Carrick but a lot more than Cleverley (0.6) and Fellaini (0.27).
Everton's young prodigy is also way ahead in terms of goal-scoring. There has been a distinct lack of goals in United's midfield this season and Barkley's 0.22 goals p/90 minutes isn't fantastic, but it beats Carrick (0.04), Cleverley (0.06) and Fellaini, who is yet to score a goal for his new club.
Barkley encapsulates everything there is about this "new Everton." His fearlessness on the ball is a joy to watch as he picks it up and runs with pace and intent towards the opposition. He is the closest player England have had to Steven Gerrard since the man himself was at his prime several years ago.
He has completed 70 take-ons this season, the second-most by a player aged under-21 in the Premier League. That's an average of 3.02 per 90 minutes, which again is a huge improvement on United's four midfielders.
Fellaini has averaged 0.8 p/90 minutes, while Carrick (0.22) and Cleverley (0.3) prop him up.
Barkley may not be a typical central midfielder, but he would bring pace, power, guile and drive to the team should he sign for United, which is not going to happen any time soon with the Blues fighting for fourth place and Moyes continues to struggle down in seventh.
Barkley is pretty much what Moyes is missing in his midfield. There is never any urgency or will to get forward, but the youngster has that in abundance. He is the complete opposite of United's current midfielders. He can think, see things that others can't and, most importantly, he can pull it off.
The youngster is growing into a special player. Some games he struggles in, but they happen when a career is as young as Barkley's. His figures stand up with some of the Premier League's best.
Take his take-ons, for example. Eden Hazard has completed 122, which is the most in the league. Per 90 minutes, he averages 3.98. Now, the Belgian has been completing take-ons like there's no tomorrow so to be in touch with him is an achievement for Barkley.
He will continue to get better and better as time progresses, and with the coaching of Roberto Martinez, he should continue to develop at a steady pace. The frightening thing is is that he's already better than what Manchester United have and he's only 20.
How good can he become? Who knows, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any Evertonian who thinks he won't become a world-class talent.
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