Can Everton's Ross Barkley fulfil his potential this season?
Ross Barkley has a huge season ahead of him as he must finally deliver the consistency that has been lacking in his career to date. He is now 22 and needs to improve in order to live up to his undoubted potential. Barkley is already a crucial member of the Everton first team, but he will have hopes of gaining a similar role in the international setup. The Merseyside-born mercurial talent will also want to test himself in the Champions League, whether that be at Everton or elsewhere.
Players develop at different rates and Barkley is an interesting case. He is improving year on year, but isn’t able to influence matches as regularly as he would like. Last season, he managed to contribute eight goals and eight assists, most of which came in the first half of the season, but was still his best on paper to date. During the first part of 2016, Barkley’s form reflected that of his club, with his drop off coming at the same time as Everton went on a bad run of results. This suggests that Barkley isn’t ready to be a key player in the side and struggles when playing in a team lacking in confidence.
Under Ronald Koeman, it looks as though Barkley has been given more freedom to attack, which should bring out the best in the Englishman. At times last season, Barkley was sitting too deep, causing him to be less effective than we know he can be. His passing range is not good enough to play in an archetypal central midfield role and he was being limited by the role he was asked to play.
Although comparisons with Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney are unfair, Barkley does share a lot of attributes with both. He is most dangerous when he is running at defenders, as he has tight ball control and is physically strong, which allows him to beat players. Barkley is an exciting player who is capable of producing moments of magic to turn a game on its head. It was a surprise that he wasn’t given a chance during Euro 2016 as he could have been able to add some much needed cutting edge to the England attack.
He has started the 2016/17 season in good form, with a goal and an assist to his name already. Despite his lack of game time for England over the summer, Barkley looks to have his confidence back and is thriving under the new manager. Barkley has a prominent role in the attack at Everton and encouraged to shoot at every opportunity, averaging 3.3 shots per game during the first three league matches. His final ball quality is lacking in consistency, but that should improve under Koeman.
There has been some marked improvement in his game since the end of last season. However, he is still giving the ball away too much, having been dispossessed 14 times across the first three matches. Barkley’s decision making in the attacking portion of the pitch needs to improve if he is to reach the next level.
He is going to need time to adjust to Koeman’s style of play as the Dutchman will want Everton to be more aggressive when they have the ball. Martinez advocated a patient, passing style of play, which became predictable towards the end of last season. Koeman is a pragmatic manager who isn’t afraid to change the style if the situation demands it and Everton will be more dynamic in the final third as a result.
This should suit Ross Barkley and it is clear that Koeman wants to build the side around the midfielder. Although he is just 22 years of age, it feels as though Barkley has been around a lot longer and that is why the pressure is starting to build on the England international. He has the perfect environment to develop further and should aim to become one of the most consistent performers in the league over the next two years. Barkley has the potential to become a Champions League calibre player, but still has some way to go before he is considered at that level.
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