Ross Barkley: The Enigma

Dubbed the ‘Scouse Zidane’ by some fans and ‘Dross Barkley’ by others: I’m going to take a look at why the midfielder creates so much divide in the Chelsea fanbase. 

Ross Barkley is a player who many Chelsea fans thought would be leaving the club in 2020, but, in the recent weeks before the postponement of the season, he often found himself in Frank Lampard’s Premier League XI. This will have caused some Chelsea fans to reconsider their opinions on the ex-Everton man and perhaps, contrary to their former opinions, he could be a useful asset to the squad going forward. I will firstly recap Barkley’s season and summarise how this campaign went for him, before looking a bit more closely at his habits and tendencies, and thinking about how he could be utilised in the future. 

Barkley started this season with three starts in four games, notably playing extremely well (and channeling his inner Maradona as seen above) in the 3-2 away victory over Norwich, which was the first win of the Premier League campaign for Frank Lampard’s side. However, in their first Champions League game of the season at home to Valencia, with a huge chance to level the scores, he famously hit the crossbar with a penalty after having just been substituted on. He was consequently dropped to the bench for the home defeat to Liverpool the following weekend but was restored to the starting XI for the next Premier League game against Brighton at home, although he was brought off in the 68th minute having played poorly. After picking up an ankle injury in the next game he played – against Newcastle midway through October – he found himself out of the side for an extensive period.

Chelsea FC v Valencia CF: Group H - UEFA Champions League

(Image source: thesportsrush.com)

Despite recovering in time to make the bench away at Everton on 7th December, he did not next make it onto the pitch until starting at home to Burnley on 11th January, when he played extremely well. The Blues had struggled in their previous two home games against Bournemouth and Southampton, both of whom they lost to without scoring a single goal. In response to the poor results, Frank Lampard decided that it was time for a change, so he decided to play both Mason Mount and Barkley in the same midfield three in order to add more creativity to the side. Burnley were breezed aside but Barkley was once more dropped to the bench for the next run of games, used as a late substitute in a four-game winless streak against Newcastle, Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester United. 

barkley spurs mychelseafc.com

(Image source: mychelseafc.com)

The English international was restored to Lampard’s starting XI for the huge clash at home to Spurs, where he was utilised to great effect as a left-sided attacking midfielder in a 3-4-3 formation with him and Mount flanking Olivier Giroud, who led the line with aplomb. Barkley assisted both of the Blues’ goals, and worked extremely hard off the ball for the whole game. He was kept in the Chelsea XI for the home clash with Bayern Munich, deployed in the same position but the Blues were blown away by the quality of the German champions who thrashed them 3-0. After that, Barkley was dropped to the bench for the weekend’s visit to Bournemouth’s Dean Court but lined up at Stamford Bridge in midweek against his old foes Liverpool in the FA Cup. He was arguably outshone by emerging star Billy Gilmour, but the Englishman scored one of Chelsea’s goals of the season where he collected the ball inside his own half before running at the Liverpool defence and powering a strike past the helpless Adrian into the bottom corner. He was kept in Lampard’s XI for the next game against his old club Everton –  which would turn out to be Chelsea’s last game to date – in which he was one of their best performers in a magnificent 4-0 victory. 

barkley liverpool think football ideas

(Image credit: Think Football Ideas)

It is clear that Ross Barkley is a very inconsistent performer which is part of the reason why he causes so much divide in the fanbase. It could be argued that the best form of his career came when he was making his name as an up-and-coming youngster with Everton in the Premier League, when that inconsistency would have been understandable due to his age and inexperience.

 However, as a 26-year-old entering the peak years of his career, why is he still so inconsistent, and why is he struggling to fulfil his undoubtedly high potential?

It could be argued that one of the causes of Barkley’s inconsistency is the fact that he is played in so many different positions as well as being in and out of the team, which means that it is difficult for him to get a run of good form going. We have seen him produce quality performances over the course of the season – against Burnley in January as a number 8, against Tottenham in February as an inside forward, and against Liverpool in March as a number 10. These have all come in different months of the season, and there has been time between each in which Barkley has been out of the team, so it is understandable that he has had few of these top performances. It is clear that the Englishman is capable of producing quality, it’s just about finding what it is that enables him to play so well. 

Chelsea FC v Nottingham Forrest - FA Cup Third Round

(Image source: The Pride of London)

One thing that is worth pointing out is that all of these three top performances of Barkley’s season came at home. This would suggest that he plays best when feeling the most confident in himself, which is backed up by the fact that he always seems to play better for England’s national team than Chelsea. He is certainly confident playing for England, as manager Gareth Southgate always shows faith in his ability by giving him starts – even when Barkley is competing with some of the Premier League’s most in-form players such as James Maddison and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. 

It is often argued that Southgate is unfair on Maddison, who plays far better for Leicester than Barkley does for Chelsea, but always finds himself on the bench for England with Barkley in the starting XI – although it is true that Barkley usually comes up with the goods for England, so why should Southgate drop him? It is clear that Barkley plays with much more confidence for England and that is perhaps why he performs better. 

barkley southgate whoscored.com

Image source: (WhoScored.com)

Another reason for his good performances for England could be that there is less pressure on him, as the matches are usually friendlies or UEFA Nations League games, the result of which matters far less than most Chelsea games. This could also explain why Barkley’s form in pre-season always seems to be far better than his form during the actual season. In pre-season, there is no pressure on him to deliver, which may be why he always seems to be less of a shadow of his former self, as he often does during the season. The only two times the 26-year-old has scored a free kick for Chelsea have been against Reading in a pre-season friendly and against Malmö in a Europa League group stage game at home. The results of both these games had very little importance, so there would have been no pressure on Barkley which means that he would have had more confidence in himself to score.

Barkley england 90min

(Image source: 90min.com)

On the basis of this, we can conclude that Ross Barkley seems to be a player who performs much better when there is less pressure on him and when he has more confidence in himself. Rediscovering this self-confidence – which he had so much of at Everton – could be key in helping the Englishman to find more consistency, the lack of which is his biggest weakness as a player. 

Barkley is very lucky in the respect that if anyone is going to help him be confident and therefore find consistency, then who better than his new manager Frank Lampard. The 2005 Ballon d’Or runner-up was repeatedly written off as a young player at West Ham, before getting his big move to Chelsea and becoming one of the most consistent goalscoring midfielders in Europe for a good ten years.

barkley lampard sun

(Image source: The S*n)

Chelsea’s former number eight could be the perfect mentor for their current number eight. Lampard has previously said that Barkley ‘does need confidence as a player’ and that he can be ‘a big player for this club’ if he ‘keeps on churning out’ performances like the ones ‘against Liverpool and Tottenham’, which Lampard has been ‘pleased to see’. He also said in the same interview that he believes that Barkley ‘has the intention to’ (keep churning out performances like those two). He also gave the ex-Everton man plenty of praise, saying that Barkley ‘can be that goalscoring midfielder, and not only that: he can play, he can run, he can tackle, he can do a lot of things.’

lamps barkley zimbio.com

(Image source: zimbio.com)

Lampard and Barkley actually played together on the same England team at the 2014 World Cup, when Barkley was 20 years old and Lampard 36. Now his manager, Lampard clearly knows all about Barkley’s fantastic footballing ability – encouragement from the Chelsea and England legend could be the catalyst that takes him to the next level. The now-26-year-old will have aspirations to become as good a player as Lampard was, and all Chelsea fans will hope that that dream becomes a reality. Even if it doesn’t, Barkley is undoubtedly a quality player who is only going to improve, and it’s definitely worth keeping him around at Stamford Bridge for the time being.

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