Is Ross Barkley the answer to more England joy?
Chelsea midfielder ready for starring role
Ross Barkley put in perhaps his best performance in the England shirt against Montenegro on Monday.
But wasn’t Barkley supposed to have been the main man by now anyway? He’s been touted as ‘the next big thing’ since his late-teens at Everton.
But it’s only in 2019 that the Chelsea man is stamping his authority in an England shirt.
The 25-year-old got the nod after putting in an impressive cameo against Czech Republic last weekend and showed an eye for goal and direct running with the ball that England have lacked in the past.
So we take a look at whether this is a flash in the pan or if Barkley is finally here to stay.
It must have felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders when the young scouser came through the ranks at his boyhood club Everton.
His dynamic approach earned him rave reviews, even being likened to Paul Gascoigne by previous boss Roberto Martinez.
But after Martinez left the Toffees, it seemed as though Barkley was stuck at a crossroads. An injury stunted his development and a change of scenery was needed.
A move to Chelsea started slow but is now gathering momentum. He is becoming an ace in the pack for both club and country.
The fact Barkley isn’t the ‘bright young thing’ for England anymore, is a sign of the times – but seeing the spotlight move onto others has probably helped.
He’s added more maturity to his youthful enthusiasm, with his importance to Chelsea seeing him bag 40 appearances in a team of fully-fledged internationals.
Fighting for his place
Barkley has been used to being the first name on the team-sheet for a lot of his young career. But at Stamford Bridge that is very rarely the case.
N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are near shoe-ins in a three-man midfield. This leaves Barkley and Mateo Kovacic.
Two can’t go into one and Mauricio Sarri has usually gone with the on-loan Real Madrid man.
However, while Kovacic offers calmness and silky passing, Barkley showcases a directness and willingness to get into the final third from midfield that both Chelsea and England are missing.
England are also in transition and are exploring ways of favouring a more attacking midfield trio.
There will be others that come to the party before the Euros next summer, so will Barkley keep hold of the shirt?
Barkley may be confident of keeping his position ahead of this summer’s Nations League finals, but it’s the Euros in 2020 that will be on everyone’s mind.
England are currently 11/2 second-favourites to win the competition after their courageous run to the World Cup last four in 2018.
But there’s already pressure on that role to be England’s driving force from midfield.
Jordan Henderson is very versatile, but won’t be that off-the-cuff threat in the final third.
The competition may come from the likes of World Cup star Ruben Loftus-Cheek and also the wily Jesse Lingard, who has a knack of coming up with big goals.
Jack Grealish could have a shout – especially if he plays Premier League football next season. But the one to keep an eye on could be Leicester City’s James Maddison.
If his second season in the top-flight is anything like his debut campaign, then Gareth Southgate may have a decision to make.
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