Ross Barkley’s eye-catching progress at Chelsea over recent weeks has convinced Maurizio Sarri the midfielder can have a key role in the team, with the head coach having initially feared the England international was “in trouble” when striving to adapt to his philosophy.
Barkley will go into Sunday’s reunion with Everton, from whom he moved for a cut-price £15m in January, restored to the national squad and having impressed under Sarri in the Premier League. The 24-year-old recently scored in three consecutive top-flight matches and, having feared he might play second fiddle to Mateo Kovacic, a loanee from Real Madrid, has become a regular.
His current standing contrasts markedly with Sarri’s early assessment of his abilities. “At the beginning he was in trouble,” the Italian said. “Then he started to improve in every training, in every match. And so I am surprised [at his ability to adapt] if I think back to the first month, but not if I think of the last two months.
“I like very much him because I think he is a complete player. He has physical qualities. He is fast. Technically he’s very good: he has a good kick with the left foot, and with the right. He’s improving in moving the ball. He’s quicker, mentally quicker, and he’s improving tactically. I think he’s on the way to becoming a very important midfielder, not only in England. Barkley, I think at the moment from a tactical point of view, is a step ahead of [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek. Loftus-Cheek arrived later because, in the first part of the season, he had two or three little injuries.”
Barkley played 179 games for Everton, through whose youth academy he had graduated, before indicating his desire to leave last year. Chelsea had been willing to pay closer to £30m for him in the summer of 2017 only for the player, out with a serious hamstring injury, to have reservations.
“I achieved my dream of playing for Everton,” Barkley said. “In my living room I always used to tell my mum: ‘One day I’ll score for Everton’, and when that happened it was unbelievable for me. I tried to achieve success there but sometimes these things happen in football. Coming to Chelsea was a big challenge. I was approaching 25 [sic] and I felt, looking back, I could have improved a lot more [at Everton]. At Chelsea I knew I’d improve a lot quicker around better players, world-class players.”