When Everton lose or Everton play badly, it’s often one player who takes the brunt of it from Evertonians, Ross Barkley.
As it’s happened again, it’s bank holiday Monday and I have nothing to do, I wanted to write a piece on it.
Before I get into it, let me set my stall out on the player. I really like Ross Barkley and I want Ross Barkley to stay at Everton. I think he’s is a very good footballer, he’s not perfect but, for me, an in-form Ross Barkley is up there with the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League.
As Evertonians, we’ve seen it all with Ross Barkley; we’ve seen him come through the ranks, seen him score goals, seen him create goals, seen him when he’s flying and seen him when he’s off-colour.
You’d think, with Barkley being an Everton product, Evertonians would give him a bit of a wide berth when he’s out of form. Maybe afford him more off-days than other externally recruited players. But for some reason, with Ross Barkley, it’s just not like that.
A Ross Barkley misplaced pass is met by audible discontent when others might be praised for trying whatever Ross had attempted.
The crux of the matter is, it seems as though Evertonians expect Ross Barkley to be winning most games for Everton single-handed.
If Ross Barkley plays badly and Everton don’t win, Evertonians will tell you all about it. It happened after the dismal 0-0 draw at West Ham and it’s happened again after the 0-3 defeat to Chelsea. It happens after most bad results we have if Barkley plays.
As for why, I think it ultimately all comes down to expectations fuelled in part by comparisons.
Evertonians expect Ross Barley to ‘grab each game by the scruff of the neck’ (I hate that phrase). The fact he doesn’t is a criticism that’s often levelled at him, blues will say Ross Barkley is too passive or that ‘he hides’.
When I think of where these expectations came from, one man comes to mind, Roberto Martinez.
The now-departed Spaniard was king of the exaggeration. Whether it was Tom Cleverley being the best free transfer of all time or Gareth Barry being one of the best ever English midfielders, Martinez loved to over-hype all of his players.
Martinez clearly used the method of exaggerating how good a player was to increase his confidence and hopefully get better results out of him on the football pitch. The method is fine, until you come across a straight-talking hard taskmaster, like, say, Ronald Koeman.
Barkley went from having smoke blown somewhere smelly to having a splash of cold water on his face; a stark contrast of man management style which was clearly hard for Ross to adapt to.
In spite of a couple of promising early performances under Koeman, Barkley for the first half of the season, found himself struggling for final product.
Koeman openly criticised Barkley’s ‘productivity’ and he had a point. Barkley contributed just 1 goal and 1 assist in 13 games between Stoke at home (27th August) and Arsenal at home (13th December).
It was a run of form that saw Ronald Koeman sub Barkley at half time against Sunderland, drop him from the starting 11 at Manchester City and drop him again for the matches against Manchester United and Watford.
Although Barkley definitely wasn’t playing well. It’s worth pointing out that the entire team was well off form at this time. We went on a dreadful run of 1 win in 11, culminating in the defeat 3-2 at Watford.
It was a time when the manager tried a lot of players. He was new into his job and clearly wanted to see what he had at his disposal before wielding the axe accordingly in January. The likes of Cleverley and Deulofeu were given opportunities, which occasionally came at the expense of Barkley.
During this period Ronald Koeman fielded a lot of questions about Ross Barkley in press conferences. It seemed as though the press were so used to Ross Barkley being the prince of Everton under Martinez that the idea of him being dropped was plain staggering to them.
After the Watford defeat I mentioned, Arsenal came to Goodison. Barkley was recalled to the starting line up and made an assist for the winning goal. Since that game Barkley has started every match (aside from Leicester over Christmas), scoring twice and making 9 assists.
The second half of the season has seen a big improvement in Barkley’s output and I believe you can put this down to the addition of 2 players to our starting 11; Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies.
Firstly and most importantly, the presence of Morgan Schneiderlin has allowed Barkley to play higher up the pitch without a need to worry about helping with the midfield ‘dirty work’. Barkley could concentrate on receiving the ball up the pitch where he’d look to exploit the gaps between the opposition midfield and defence to make things happen.
Prior to Schneiderlin’s arrival, Gareth Barry was used in this deep lying midfield role. As Barry is slower and less mobile than Schneiderlin, the entire team played deeper to compensate, which meant Barkley wasn’t getting the ball in the final third often enough to influence matches.
When Barkley got the ball, it’d often be in a safe area for the opposition where he could effectively be snuffed out or forced to play a simple sideways ball. However, when Schneiderlin replaced Barry in the starting 11, the team pushed up which, in turn, enabled Barkley to receive the ball in better areas where he could dictate attacks.
Then there’s Tom Davies, this lad has added the energy in the middle of the pitch. He gets around, make tackles and importantly he plays the forward ball quickly. When he’s there, Everton have 2 central midfielders (him and Gana Gueye) who love to press the ball and can do it together effectively.
Ronald Koeman found the midfield formula (to play at home, at least) and our form skyrocketed from January onwards; Schneiderlin at the base, Gana with Davies pressing together and ‘covering every blade’ with Ross Barkley operating in a free role up the pitch where he can affect the game, supporting Lukaku and another attacker.
The importance of Morgan Schneiderlin has been demonstrated a few times since he signed. Three times he’s been unavailable and we’ve won a solitary point from nine, looking poor in the process (Liverpool, United and Chelsea).
Without him the platform for us to attack wasn’t there and guess what? Barkley and Lukaku are largely out of the game.
Still, I hear people say Barkley doesn’t contribute enough and I think that’s rubbish.
As above, Barkley had a poor first half of the season, whilst playing in an average and flawed side. Since mid-December he’s made 9 assists.
In fact, Barkley’s total of 11 assists for the season puts him 7th amongst all Premier League midfielders (that’s according to Fantasy Premier League stats).
Further, if you look at stats compiled by Squawka for ‘key passes’ (chances created) Barkley ranks 3rd of all midfielders in the Premier League (behind only Eriksen and De Bruyne – despite having played far fewer minutes then both).
Whilst I think those stats prove Ross has been amongst the best midfielders in the league for creating goals this season, I accept that Barkley should score more goals.
With the shooting ability Barkley has and playing in the attacking midfield role he does, 4 goals is quite a meagre return for any player who aspires to be a top player.
I believe it’s this lack of goals that leads to unfavourable comparisons for Ross. Goals win matches and people can be very quick to ignore everything else, especially in the midst of a dissapointing result.
I’m going to make 2 comparisons which I think Evertonians make when they judge Ross Barkley.
The first is with Dele Alli.
Ross Barkley v Dele Alli, it’s two young English attacking midfielders that play behind the striker. On that basis, most people think it’s a natural comparison to make.
However, in my opinion, Dele Alli is a different sort of footballer to Ross Barkley; Ross Barkley is more of a creator of chances, Dele Alli is more of a scorer of chances.
That’s not to say Alli can’t create goals or Barkley can’t score goals as they’re both capable but that’s just how I see it.
People may say i’m wrong and I’m an Evertonian that likes Barkley so i’m making excuses to mask the fact Alli is better than Barkley. I’m not and I agree, right now, Alli is better than Barkley. He’s a smashing player, Dele Alli.
The thing is though, Dele Alli plays as a second striker these days which means it’s not going to be a favourable comparison to Ross Barkley. It’s a comparison that makes people think Barkley isn’t good enough. ‘Dele Alli scores x amount of goals so Ross should do the same’.
No, different types of player. 2 questions:
– How often do you see Dele Alli in the 6 yard box compared with Ross Barkley?
– How often do you see Dele Alli shoot inside the area compared with Ross Barkley?
Dele Alli has predatory instincts, he scores strikers goals, he’s in there reacting (see his goal against Arsenal yesterday) he’s having headers at goal from a few yards out.
Ross Barkley doesn’t possess these instincts. You don’t see Barkley getting in the area on the end of things. I wish he would but it’s just not his game. Barkley likes getting the ball, looking up and seeing what’s on for his team mates. He can be too reluctant to shoot, if anything.
Above I mentioned the ‘key passes’ statistic which demonstrates chances created, Ross Barkley has made 70 of those this season whilst Dele Alli has made 36.
Why has Alli only made 36, despite being in a better side? The quality of his team mates and in particular one; Christian Eriksen.
Tottenham are a great side, they’ve got everything you need to be successful in this league right now; great number 1 keeper, excellent defence, flying wing backs, robust central midfielders as a base, excellent playmaker, fantastic second striker, brilliant striker.
Everton don’t. Everton lack a few of those things. I won’t go off on a tangent, naming them all but one of of the things we lack compared with Spurs is an attacking player. We’ve got a great striker (Lukaku), we’ve got a very good creator (Barkley) but we don’t have a second striker.
Spurs on the other hand, have a great striker (Kane), a good creator (Eriksen) and a great second striker (Alli).
The problem with Evertonians is we expect Ross Barkley to be ‘the Alli’ and ‘the Eriksen’. So when he inevitably can’t be both, he’s written off as not good enough.
It’s hard for Ross when he’s essentially tasked with being the sole creator. Chelsea yesterday being a prime example, there were 3 forwards, Ross in a deeper role (where he doesn’t thrive) no wingers, no flying full backs – it was just too much for him.
I firmly believe that Ross Barkley in a better and more functional side would be a Ross Barkley that would thrive.
We’ve seen what he’s done since we sorted the central midfield issue out. He’s recorded those 9 assists in roughly half a season, imagine if he had a full season in a more functional side.
The other comparison is one that I don’t think many blues admit to. It’s one i’ll try to keep short, but it’s to Steven Gerrard.
Now, hear me out, I know we don’t like to admit it as Evertonians, but we’d have loved to have had Steven Gerrard. He was the ultimate midfielder and he set the benchmark for Merseyside midfielders of the modern day (hence the comparison people make).
A midfield player who could do everything. He could play in front of the defence, box-box, behind the striker, on the right – you’d get a job out of him anywhere.
He’d rise to nearly every big game, he’d lead his team, he’d get stuck in, he could be nasty, he could score a couple of goals in a game, he could take corners and free kicks, pop up in the area, influence the ref – you name it, he could do it.
I used to hate it when he played against us because 9 times out of 10, he’d get them a result. He was the ‘grab the game by the scruff of the neck’ midfielder (still hate that phrase).
Then there’s Ross Barkley. A good footballer who I rate but he’s nowhere near the same level. He just isn’t, people expect all of those qualities from Ross but it’s just not his game. Some of those things, sure, but not all of them.
No matter how you try and compare the two, it’s not going to be favourable to Ross. All any Evertonian is doing by comparing Barkley and Gerrard is building Ross Barkley up to a fall.
If you expect that kind of a level to be reached (which I think people do, hence the harsh treatment of Ross amongst blues) again, you’re hoping for too much.
Sometimes Barkley makes big contributions to Everton winning. Other times he doesn’t. He shouldn’t be singled out every time he doesn’t set the pitch alight.
It’s easy to forget the lack of continuity in his career. He’s been tried in various positions under various managers with vastly different outlooks on the game.
I think Ross will take a lot from this season. He’s had the good period of form but also the bad, he’s been left out, critisised by his manager and pushed to do more.
After years of being unsure, I think we’ve finally learned his best position this season; one of two attacking midfield players with a free role, supporting a striker, with three central midfielders behind. Now it’s important he stays there and really hones it, he’s got to continue creating goals and score a few more himself.
Can he be frustrating? Definitely. Sometimes he takes too long on the ball, sometimes he doesn’t shoot when he should, sometimes he slows play down. As I said, he’s not perfect but also, nor is he a kid anymore.
One classic amongst Evertonians is ‘Barkley won’t be a top player, he doesn’t have a football brain’. This one’s a pet hate of mine, the lad will know the game 20x more than the person who said it.
He does need to continue to learn but I think he will, he’s been good the past few months, so let’s not knock him down now the entire team has tailed off on their summer holidays.
I’d be gutted if Barkley was sold in the summer. Some people might prefer Sigurdsson to him, but not for me.
Ross is younger, he’s one of our own, he’s got the game, let’s get that contract signed, keep him on and let’s move forwards.
And, please get off his back.