Ross Barkley endured a season to forget last year but he is blossoming under Maurizio Sarri. What is behind his resurgence?
Ross Barkley was only a few weeks into his Chelsea career when he found himself on the receiving end of a public humiliation by Antonio Conte. The 24-year-old had just performed poorly in his first appearance for the club against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, with Conte taking exception to how long it had taken him to get ready following a first-half injury to Willian.
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“It is not simple,” said the Italian in his post-match press conference, “especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley.”
Perhaps Conte’s comments were lost in translation – perhaps he did not intend them to sound as harsh as they did – but they certainly set the tone for Barkley’s first few months at Chelsea. The midfielder, who had not played all season having suffered a serious hamstring injury at Everton, only made three further appearances before the end of the campaign.
Barkley’s hopes of a late push for England’s World Cup squad evaporated and his Chelsea future became uncertain, but 10 months on from that disappointing evening at the Emirates, his career is transformed. Barkley forced his way into Maurizio Sarri’s plans after an impressive pre-season campaign with Chelsea, and he has returned to the England team, too.
Barkley made his first international start in two years against Croatia and kept his place in Gareth Southgate’s team for the 3-2 win over Spain, and back at Chelsea there have been goals and assists against Southampton, Manchester United and now Burnley.
His performance in Sunday’s 4-0 win at Turf Moor was his most effective yet. Barkley set up Alvaro Morata’s opener with a cute through ball, then fired home the second goal himself with a precise shot from long range. Barkley added his second assist of the game for Willian’s strike and ended the game with the man-of-the-match award.