Barkley responds to Koeman’s demands with his best form yet

Posted: 13th March 2017 by Chris Smith

There has been a lot of recent discussion about Ross Barkley’s future. With 15 months left on his contract, this is understandable although it continues the trend of speculation rather than analysis. Pay too much attention and you may overlook the fact it is Barkley’s present, not his future, that warrants discussion.

Everton's Ross Barkley crosses to Romelu Lukaku in the Toffee's 3-0 win over West Brom at Goodison.

Barkley’s great form in 2017 has seen only a handful of Premier League players outperform him. He appears to have found the calmness and clarity required to let his talent shine. Having been dropped and singled out by Ronald Koeman, and by 2016’s three England managers, he has responded well: a better work ethic, improved defensive contribution, and a greater impact in attack. Koeman’s firm but fair approach has paid off: after months of pale imitation, Barkley finally looks himself.

Koeman deserves credit. His methods are more subtle than the cruel to be kind reputation he has accrued suggests. A reminder of his responsibilities and a few games on the bench made good medicine for overindulged, overburdened Barkley, but more helpful still has been the adjustment to his role. He is not currently playing as a number 10, but as an attacking midfielder, and the difference is crucial.

For some time, the number 10 region exposed him. Harangued by opponents well-schooled on his weaknesses, Barkley was consistently overcrowded, out of time, and caught in two minds. Now, placed on the right of a front three, he has Seamus Coleman’s relentless endeavour beside him and at least two defensive midfielders holding the fort. This permits a free role that suits him perfectly.

Barkley is just as likely to be playing a one-two with Morgan Schneiderlin in front of his back four these days as he is shooting from inside the box. He provides cover and also looks to get beyond Romelu Lukaku. More crosses per game than last season (0.9) and also more headers (1.3). Barkley was one of the Premier League’s easiest players to set a game-plan for but this surge of unpredictability has made him a potent threat once again.

Hint of seniority

Tom Davies has been key in this regard. Not only does Davies problematise Plan A in dealing with Barkley, his presence genuinely seemed to have a positive influence over his teammate. Whether the hint of seniority jolted Barkley, or their styles overlap, or whether they have a mutual understanding, Davies’ emergence coincided with a calm, mature approach for his fellow academy graduate which has remained ever since.

Under Roberto Martinez, Barkley scored a fair amount of his goals in spectacular fashion – the galloping solo effort away Newcastle and whipped strike at home to Man City come immediately to mind. There have been none this season, nor have there been many goals in general (just four this campaign). Clearly this is insufficient but picking the right pass more often than going for the spectacular ought to be considered a positive development for now. Obviously this depends on goals returning to his game long-term but that seems a reasonable assumption.

Ross Barkley displays his growing confidence by celebrating before he scored in Everton's 6-3 win over Bournemouth.

There was an interesting moment against West Brom. With the deadlock unbroken and Coleman to his right, Barkley delayed, turned inside, overlooked another pass then turned back. The crowd’s response was notable: almost nothing. Ridiculous as it is, such hesitation would have induced angry responses, even booing in months gone by. Evidence perhaps that harshly treated Barkley has finally won over his home crowd.

Had it not been for Romelu Lukaku, Barkley’s form would have drawn more attention. That may be connected. Lukaku is not only comfortable with main man status, he actively seeks it out. Barkley is cut from a different cloth. He appears to enjoy the periphery, coming to the fore just as Davies captured attention, assisting six goals in eight games as Lukaku scored 10 in 10. Barkley was very much a high profile individual under Martinez; he’s a functioning cog in a machine under Koeman.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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