Ross Barkley: A Fresh Start

 

A resurgence in form and fitness for Chelsea under the tutelage of Maurizio Sarri forced Gareth Southgate to include the ex-Everton man Ross Barkley in his squad for the latest round League of Nations matches.

He starred for England in their 3-2 victory over Spain and came off the bench to secure Chelsea a point against Manchester United last weekend.
Barkley’s stock had fallen to such a degree that he was not considered for the 2018 World Cup squad, with England crying out for a central midfielder with the power and guile that he possesses.

Everton Boy

Barkley joined Everton aged 11 and spent 13 years at The Toffees. Early promise led to teammate Tim Cahill heralding Barkley as “the most talented footballer” he had worked with. Former England centre-back turned pundit, Martin Keown, said in 2011 that “[Barkley will be] one of the best players we will see in this country.”
He had loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United before forcing his way into the Everton first team at the start of the 2013-14 season. A debut goal on the first day of the season sparked further praise from ex-players and pundits with Alan Hansen saying Barkley had “absolutely everything” and Gary Lineker describing him as a “prodigious talent”.
Everyone was expecting Barkley to continue to develop at Everton and get a big money move to one of the top four clubs sooner rather than later. But injury and a dip in form meant that he stagnated.
Barkley often flattered to deceive in his time at Everton. His excellent first touch, ability to glide past players effortlessly and shoot with power from distance meant that at his best he was compared to Rooney or Gascoigne. But his inconsistency and fragility at Everton meant that he was more used to time on the treatment table or on the bench than winning games for his boyhood club.
Like Jack Wilshere, Barkley was a player that everyone seemed to agree was great, despite often not playing that well or changing the course of the matches he was involved in.

The Big Move

The big move did eventually materialise. But instead of the goalscoring, midfield powerhouse that Barkley had threatened to be in his early Everton career, Chelsea signed a world-weary, injury-prone 24-year-old for a cut-price of £15 million.
Having signed for Chelsea in January, Barkley was used sparingly by Antonio Conté, with appearances confined to cup competitions and the odd substitute appearance. Like Drinkwater and Loftus-Cheek, it looked like Chelsea had another English midfield benchwarmer.
However, a fine pre-season and the backing of incumbent manager Maurizio Sarri has sparked the Barkley comeback. Barkley says that the stringent training regime at Chelsea is like nothing he’s experienced before. He feels fitter than he ever has. Which begs the question, what were they doing at Everton?
Straight talking Sarri has said there is a lot of room for improvement in Barkley’s game. His physicality and ability to travel with the ball has always been apparent, but his tactical nouse and in game decision making (when to dribble, pass or shoot) are areas Sarri feels he can work on.

The fight for a starting spot

Ross Barkley: A fresh start

Barkley has cited Frank Lampard as one of his heroes, a man he would like to emulate and the sort of player that Chelsea are crying out for. The Blues rely far too heavily on Hazard, and to a lesser degree, Willian and Pedro, to provide goals. They require a more consistent threat from central midfield.
That threat is unlikely to come from Kanté, a more defensive player, or Jorginho, the ‘quarterback’, so must come from the 3rd central midfielder. Whilst Kovacic has looked comfortable in his first Premier League season and suits ‘Sarri-ball’, the manager seems to be coming to terms with the fact that he needs more goals from somewhere. Barkley’s goal against United was a perfect example of what Lampard used to do so well, being in the right place at the right time. This can be seen as luck, but it’s no accident.
With Loftus-Cheek scoring a hat trick in Europe on Thursday he too has staked a claim for the starting spot alongside midfield stalwarts Kanté and Jorginho, but it seems that Sarri has been particularly impressed by Barkley’s willingness to develop his game. The manager wants that cut and thrust from midfield, and recognises the drive it takes to come back from the place of relative obscurity that Barkley found himself in at the back end of his time with Everton and at the start of his Chelsea career.
A good Premier League player must of course have a very high skill level, but it is the drive to improve and return from setbacks that separates the good players from the great ones. Premier League history is littered with examples of talented individuals that failed to reach the very top level as they lacked a quality that can’t be coached. The will to get better and better. Think Ravel Morrison or Michael Johnson. David Bellion or Quincy Owusu-Abeyie. Ross Barkley was in danger of becoming another one of those players who wasted their undoubted ability. Now, in a team alongside world class players, it looks like Barkley is finally starting to emerge as the player we knew he could be. A strong, technically gifted midfielder with an eye for goal.

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