A direct Ross Barkley of old, tweaked for Sarri, has split opinions

When Chelsea signed Ross Barkley, I like many, was sceptical. Overall though, I was pleased with the move. Chelsea needed to protect home grown numbers, and £15 million was a bargain for a full international.

Barkley wasn’t perhaps the big name elite player that many craved. But for me, I saw the potential he had, and believed that he was arriving to fill depth, but also could transpire to become a top player.

That hasn’t quite happened yet. For me, Ross has been rather basic in a Chelsea shirt at least this season. But he continues to be picked by Maurizio Sarri?

So why is this?

Well, it’s simple really. The reason that Barkley has looked average and a shadow of his former self, is because he’s adapted his game to be more of a defensive asset for Sarri, and is taking less risks (hardly any, in fact).

Barkley of old, was very much a risk taker. He would offer a goal threat from midfield, but most of all for me, he was a direct ball carrier, who actually had good dribbling skills.

You can never judge a player on videos, but take a look at this short clip from 2016. He was a different player.

In this Chelsea team, he has been clever. When I say that, I mean by adapting his game to play in a way that has made his manager pick him. Although he has often shown a shakiness on the ball in tight areas, the defensive aspects of his game, his stamina, strength, and speed – is what gets him in Sarri’s team right now.

He is doing the basics, making short passes and keeping the ball. But it’s his tracking back, high press energy, and determination that’s making him have a reasonable season, in some peoples eyes. He is gaining high praise elsewhere from some media and pundits.

I believe that Sarri having suffered heavily losses to teams like Bournemouth and Manchester City this season, has seen him opt for Barkley on many occasions. He seems to trust him to help keep things tighter in the defensive areas.

This is where it gets odd for me. Without going into it too much, Barkley’s main assets for me are attacking. Chelsea have lacked that attacking prowess from midfield and that direct play, unless Ruben Loftus-Cheek is on the pitch. But he has been struggling with a back injury. But when he’s on, he plays more offensive than Barkley. Which also begs the question, is this why Ross has so far been picked more, rather than just Rubens injury?

But a 2016 Ross Barkley, would also offer those assets. But he doesn’t now, he plays with shackles on his ankles. Whether that’s a Sarri thing, or Barkley doing it to adapt, who knows?

But I sure as hell know that he doesn’t play that way for England. With the shackles off, and playing with total freedom under Gareth Southgate, Ross was more like his old self. Let’s not be extreme, he didn’t turn into some prime Iniesta, but he certainly looks a better player in that England shirt.

So where do I see his future? Well, at Chelsea still. Because I do feel he has a lot to offer, has goals in him, and his energy, commitment, and desire are traits that Chelsea need. But unless he improves some more, and perhaps goes back to his old free way of playing, then for me he merely stays as a good rotation option.

Let’s not forget also, that Ross was a long time club target for Chelsea, he’s always been admired by them.

Simon Phillips

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