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The Enigmatic Talent That Is Ross Barkley and His Unfulfilled Career

Many Chelsea fans have recognised that the 2020 summer transfer window is a make-or-break moment in both Chelsea’s future as a top t...

Many Chelsea fans have recognised that the 2020 summer transfer window is a make-or-break moment in both Chelsea’s future as a top tier club in Europe and Frank Lampard’s tenure as Chelsea manager. To ensure Chelsea start challenging for the Premier League title again, it is expected that Chelsea will look to sell the deadwood that has contributed to the club failing to accrue more than 72 points in a season since Conte’s title-winning season in 2017. One of the names on the forefront of most Chelsea fans lists of potential departures is an enigmatic midfielder, Ross Barkley.

Barkley joined Chelsea in the January window of 2018, with pundits and fans optimistic the move would enable Barkley to reach the heights his early years had promised. Chelsea signed Barkley for 15-million-pounds, a whole 35-million-pounds less than Everton’s valuation of the midfielder only 4 years prior. Chelsea had therefore pulled-off a bargain, however, it remains to be seen whether Barkley has a future at Chelsea – or any top club in England for that matter – beyond the end of this season. 

Barkley’s early career had shown plenty of promise, which culminated in a nomination for the Premier League young player of the year award and a spot in England’s World Cup squad in 2014. Barkley’s consistent performances throughout the season caught the eye of some of the biggest clubs in England, with Manchester City linked with the young midfielder for an astronomical fee of 50-million-pounds. 6 years on since Barkley’s breakout season, and the same frustrations inhibiting his game, it is hard to envisage Barkley being valued at anything close to the reported 50-million-pound fee. 

Since signing for Chelsea, Barkley has only made 42 appearances in the Premier League. This is a damning indictment of his time at the club, which has been plagued by poor form, off-field drama and injuries. When Barkley has been in the side, he almost looks as if he is ‘on trial’ and playing within himself, with Barkley failing to spot opportunities for defence-splitting passes, and instead choosing safer passing options. This lack of belief hinders Chelsea’s attacking play, contributing to Chelsea’s issues against teams who deploy a low block. In addition to this, Barkley does not seem to possess the ball manipulation and control to receive a pass from midfielders and defenders on the half-turn – an important component of any quality creative midfielder. Although this may be down to a lack of confidence, it often means Barkley takes more touches than he should, slowing Chelsea’s attacking play down. In addition to this, Barkley’s poor ball control also prevents him from beating a defender in isolated, one-on-one situations, meaning Chelsea lose a dynamic dimension to their attack – in comparison to when other players such as Kovacic and Mount are on the pitch. 

In light of the aforementioned criticism of Barkley’s game, it is important to recognise the qualities Barkley does possess. Barkley showed plenty of promise during his time at Everton, so much so that he was likened to fellow Everton breakout star Wayne Rooney. Think back to Barkley’s wonder goal against Newcastle in 2014 where he picked up the ball from half-way, drove at the Newcastle backline before slamming the ball in the back of the net with his week foot. In an Everton shirt, Barkley demonstrated pace, strength and confidence, in conjunction with good technique and excellent set-piece delivery, to warrant comparisons to legendary English midfielder Paul Gascoigne. 

Moreover, Barkley’s performances in an England shirt are substantially better than those for Chelsea, with the midfielder contributing 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 European qualifiers. Barkley almost looks as if he is more comfortable in an England shirt, culminating in some terrific performances, which includes two goals and an assist in England’s 6-0 victory over Bulgaria. 

Following the appointment of Frank Lampard in the summer, and an excellent preseason behind him, it looked as though Barkley would reach the levels of a 50-million-pound midfielder under the tutelage of Chelsea’s legendary midfielder.  Barkley’s dominant pre-season form meant he started 5 of Chelsea’s opening 8 premier league games. Despite this, Lampard’s faith in the midfielder was not repaid, with Barkley failing to contribute a single goal or assist in that time. Barkley’s most memorable moment of the opening part of the season came in the Champions League fixture against Valencia, where he woefully skied a penalty over the bar which resulted in Chelsea losing their opening game of the group. Although Lampard’s system released Barkley from the shackles of Sarri’s rigid tactical system, the same frustrations were hindering Barkley’s performances, particularly in relation to Barkley’s lack of stamina and intensity in the defensive phase – something which Lampard’s system demands. 

Following an injury and off-field drama – which Lampard openly criticised in the media – Barkley did not make a single appearance throughout November and December. Most Chelsea fans believed this to be the end of Barkley’s Chelsea career, and when West Ham were rumoured with the player, it looked inevitable that Barkley would depart the club. However, Chelsea’s injury crisis and the board’s poor planning meant Barkley would at least be given until the end of the season to prove his worth in a Chelsea shirt. 

Chelsea’s recent injury crisis has presented Barkley with an opportunity to show Frank Lampard he deserves a place in Chelsea’s squad next season. Since coming back into the side, Barkley’s performances have significantly improved. The performance against Barkley’s former side stands out, with Barkley demonstrating the confidence and ability to receive the ball in between the lines and create chances for the Chelsea side. Since January, Barkley has created an average of 3.6 chances per 90 minutes – the third-most in the league in that period. It looks as though Lampard’s system has released Barkley, encouraging him to play with freedom and instinct – key qualities that unlocked Barkley’s best form at Everton. Additionally, and most importantly, Barkley has improved in the defensive phase of the game, exhibiting great stamina and energy when initiating a press – something I’m sure Lampard will be mightily impressed with. 

Whether Barkley’s recent performances will be enough to convince Lampard of his worth remains to be seen.  With the Premier League announcing a suspension until the 3rd of April, Loftus Cheek’s return looming, and the potential emergence of Academy starlet Faustino Anjorin, it is looking increasingly likely that Ross Barkley will not be a Chelsea player come the start of next season. However, Barkley will know that if he can continue to consistently perform at the levels demonstrated against Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool and propel Chelsea to a top 4 finish, it will increase his chances of staying at Chelsea beyond the summer. 

Written by - @ffiero_
Edit by - @KristenPulisic

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