Ross Barkley is set to return to full training next week, as reported here by the Telegraph, after recovering from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since January. The former Everton man only joined us in Jan for a bargain sum of £15 million, and has made an appearance each in the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup. He could be available for our monumentally important clash against Tottenham Hotspur on April 1, a game which we must win to have any chance of challenging for the top 4 this season.
There is a very big reason why Barkley must go straight into the starting line-up at the first opportunity. The 24 year-old is an exceptional talent, and offers just the solution we need to our current midfield woes. At the moment, N’Golo Kante is the only sure-shot entry into the two-man pivot Antonio Conte employs in his 3-4-3 system. The Frenchman though, has his limitations going forward. Cesc Fabregas has been the most popular choice to partner him in recent weeks, but the Spaniard is pretty average when it comes to pace and power. Fabregas only thrives when given time and space on the ball, which the opposition nowadays make sure to deny him of. Therefore, his presence in the side can sometimes be a liability. Danny Drinkwater is a fair passer of the ball and offers decent control in the middle of the park, but doesn’t nearly have the dynamism or technical ability to make stuff happen. Tiemoue Bakayoko has just not settled into life in the Premier League, and has arguably been our worst signing in a long, long time. To occupy the spot beside Kante, we need a player with pace, stamina, strength and technical ability. Barkley is abound with exactly these qualities. He can take his man on, see an incisive pass, make runs into the box to score goals, and also track back and tackle when needed. He is also tried and tested in the Premier League.
It is therefore completely baffling why Conte has employed him as a part of the front 3 until now. In the three games that he’s played, he’s been pushed out to the wing. It’s hardly surprising that he didn’t have much of an impact, also considering that he missed the second half of 2017 through a hamstring problem. Wing play is not at all his strength, and playing him there is more or less an absolute waste.
We need more goals from midfield. Since the 20-every-season man Frank Lampard left back in 2014, there hasn’t been anyone that has even come close to filling his boots. Barkley, who has also been given Super Frank’s number 8 jersey, has all the qualities to do so. He hasn’t been a prolific marksman thus far in the Premier League, but there is still a while to go before he realises his full potential. Lampard also signed for the club at round about the same age, and went on to become the highest goalscorer in the club’s history. I’m not at all suggesting that Barkley will do the same, but he undoubtedly has the talent and pedigree in him to become a huge player for us in the next few years.
The first step is to start playing him in the right position i.e. central midfield. I hope he is given the chance to prove and establish himself in the team, and we don’t spend another £35+ million in the summer on an unproven talent from a foreign league.