Players who need a good season – #3 Ross Barkley

God save the queen

I really tried with this series to at least try and include some foreign players.

However on retrospect I suppose one of my primary motivations behind this feature is that I want these players to shine as I think they can offer something to our national team, we all still believe its coming home one day don’t we? So, here’s just one more brave Lion, then we may look further afield…

There is no superfluous, metaphor-laden introduction I can really do here, I’ll just opt for this GIF instead.

That my friends, is quality.

 

Ross Barkley burst onto the Goodison Park Turf back in 2011 after being lauded as one of the greatest talents ever seen by then-captain Tim Cahill. It was hard to downplay this praise. Barkley seemed to posses that sought after bouquet garni of skill, pace and power, but underneath that he appeared to have the bouillabaisse of footballing intelligence, the ethereal stock that can make a good player great.

Of course, the blatant comparisons followed, 7 long years had passed since the last great blue hope had requested to leave Everton, Barkley was surely the next Wayne Rooney.

I mean it must be tough to support an Everton, a Spurs, a West Ham etc. You know your clubs stature, you know their history, you know their ability to consistently grow, develop, and nuture young talent.

Then comes the flip side, that inevitable gut feeling, that dark patch in your partisan soul that knows one day these players will leave to the United’s, the City’s, the Chelsea’s and even the Madrid’s and Barcelona’s of the world. Your club may often be left financially better off, but you struggle to find solace in that after previous examples of money being wasted, remember when Spurs tried to replace Bale’s goals with Roberto Soldado for fucks sake?

I would be lying to myself and to you if I painted the Ross Barkley tale as simply as that.

It hasn’t exactly been the tale of Wayne Rooney (show up on the scene, consistently score bangers and present yourself as the white Pele before engineering a move to Manchester United), there have been injuries, managerial fall-outs and a less than flattering £15 Million move to Chelsea after which he made just four appearances. But, as I write this, pining for the Premier League to start, Ross Barkley is gearing up to make amends to all those that believed in him and he’s got a great chance to do it under Maurizio Sarri.

A pinch of salt must be taken when looking at a manager’s pre-season line-ups, but if we can read anything into Sarri’s it’s that he will be playing a 4-3-3. A midfield three with a central anchorman and two box-to-box midfielders either side.

In my opinion this is ideal for Barkley to succeed, the option to run at opposition defences with the insurance of a defensive midfielder should provide Barkley’s approach with clarity and not weigh it down with the burden of tactical responsibility. If Sarri sticks with the three, competition for central midfield places diminishes, of course nobody is dropping Kante anytime soon but Drinkwater and Fabregas’ places are definitely up for grabs. Imagine a midfield three of Barkley, Jorginho and Kante.

Kante slipping into a two when Barkley roams forward to inspire an attack on goal. Tasty.

The fly in the ointment of this seemingly straight forward path to success is the emerging talent that is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Riding the wave of a World Cup campaign where he certainly showed the influence he can have on a team, there will be immense pressure on Sarri from the English media to look after RLC.

I can’t see both of them playing, as pressure from the Chelsea board to play one of their summer recruits in Jorginho will surely be a bigger priority than pressure from the national team. Sarri will choose to keep his relationship with his employers as stress-free as possible after seeing what happened to Conte in the last 12 months. As aforementioned, Kante plays 100%, so one place remains in the midfield trio and its a place that suits both RLC’s and Barkley’s styles.

To summarise, this could be the most significant season in Ross Barkley’s career. He has the lifeline of a system where he can succeed, but needs to be at the top of his game to resist losing his place to young talents in the Chelsea squad, predominantly Ruben Loftus-Cheek. I don’t really want to think about what happens if it doesn’t work out for him this time but I’d rule out him ever having the chance to play for a big club again.

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