Everton's excellent victory over Manchester City on Saturday was not the surprise result that City's recent form would suggest, as the slow trickle of stars returning from injury has renewed confidence among David Moyes' warriors. Even less of a shock was the marvellous display of Marouane Fellaini, who has started to make the £15m the Toffees shelled out for his services look like a remarkable bargain.
With the likes of Aiyegbeni Yakubu and James Vaughan recovered from long spells on the sidelines, and the loan capture of United States international forward Landon Donovan, Fellaini has been moved from the role of emergency forward to his preferred position as a holding midfielder, and is dominating the centre of the park with growing regularity. As Moyes fully appreciates, the giant Belgian has all the attributes necessary in the makeup of a box-to-box midfielder. For one, Fellaini's tough tackling and combative nature couple perfectly with the long limbs and impressive stamina in a highly destructive force that masterfully shields the injury-prone Everton back line.
Of course, a key reason for his deployment further up the field when necessary is the fact that Fellaini has the creative skills to rival his more compact team-mates. Fellaini's passing is crisp and precise, and the Belgian clearly has an eye for goal, with 12 strikes in his short career on Merseyside. The enormous afro frequently sported by Fellaini naturally makes him an obvious target for Everton's set-pieces, and the ability in the air that he is noted for makes the midfielder a daunting opponent regardless of the area of the pitch that he is occupying.
Fellaini's return in recent weeks to his favoured position in the centre of midfield should ensure that the rest of Everton's midfield continues to blossom. Indeed, the tricky and industrious artists that the Toffees can boast will need the security that Fellaini provides if they are to continue to drive Everton towards their struggling Red rivals. The ever-reliable Cahill and Osman, the increasingly-influential Steven Pienaar and the promising Diniyar Bilyaletdinov will surely feel far freer to express themselves when armed with the knowledge that behind them lies a veritable wrecking ball of a man, capable of covering several yards with one stride and robbing opposition forwards (that's you, Craig Bellamy) with a nonchalant trick or a crunching challenge.
If Everton's second half of the season is a fruitful one, it will no doubt owe just as much to the power and poise of the colossal Fellaini as to the goals of Louis Saha, the returns of key duo Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta, and the tricky running of Pienaar. It is not difficult to imagine February's Merseyside derby being decided in the engine room, and it would take a brave man to back Lucas and Mascherano against Fellaini if he maintains the performance levels that earned him the Man of the Match award against Carlos Tevez, Shay Given and Martin Petrov.