Since the introduction of Ross Barkley to the Everton first team, we have seen him play in a number of different roles.
Where Barkley has shown most efficacy thus far in his career has been in playing in a position just behind Romelu Lukaku, as a secondary striker. He has shown an ability to drive past players, and is effective at striking the ball from outside the box. However, I feel that we are seeing signs that Barkley’s future lies away from this particular role, and that he is more suited to a different position.
When you consider where Barkley’s main talents lie, and where he has the most success, few would say that these are the same features attributed to the role with which he has been utilised. If I were to pick out two playmakers who operate just behind a main striker in the Premier League, I would highlight David Silva and Mesut Ozil. These two supremely talented players have three things that they hold in common, and which I believe are essential for playing the role of a “number 10”. These are that; (1) They are both unbelievably good at finding space in tight areas in which to either receive the ball, or to drag players out of position. (2) They have an expert eye for a pass, and an awareness of runners around them. Both play with their heads up, and seem to see things that others miss. (3) They tend to make the right decisions.
Now I am a huge admirer of Ross Barkley, and believe that he is capable of becoming a hugely talented and successful footballer, but even I can see that these are not his main attributes, and are not things that he possesses. Far be it that I would say that he cannot develop and improve these abilities, but these are not the strengths that he has, and are not where he is most effective (certainly not at the time of writing). He is currently incapable of finding space in the final third, he doesn’t appear to have time on the ball, and struggles to get his head up to see a pass, and very often (much to the despair of the Goodison faithful) his decision making is wasteful.
I also get the impression that Roberto Martinez has the same feelings towards Barkley in this role, due to his search during the summer and his relentless repetition that he needed a number 10, something that he didn’t find, and a reason why I feel that we will continue to see Barkley utilised in this more ineffective role.
Long term, Ross Barkley will be a superb midfield player, operating deeper, in a style similar to that of Yaya Toure. He is someone who, when playing deeper, is given more time and space to see the game, and then use his passing ability to open the game up (highlighted effectively in his starring role off the bench against Barnsley). He can drive the ball forward as we have so often seen, and particularly effective on the break, that is something that he could still do from a deeper position. He can still use his ability to shoot from distance, and he has begun to start arriving late into the box; which he showed to great effect for his first England goal over the weekend.
He will become that player but, for now, we are seeing glimpses of what he will become. I highlighted Barkley as someone who could be the difference in our season, capable of influencing our performances and results. I think that this is the year where we start to see Ross Barkley begin to show his full capabilities, and these early performances have done nothing to leave me questioning his ability.
If only we had signed that number 10….