If there was anything positive to talk about during the 2015-16 Everton season, it was the attack, especially early on. Despite the mix-and-match approach taken to who would be the starting wingers on a given day, the team could always score goals. The engineer of many of the Toffees goal-scoring opportunities was the man they have trained since he was an 11-year-old, Ross Barkley.
What he did well
Barkley remains the most talented player overall on Everton's roster, and it's not really close. His ability to dribble around defenders, shoot with both feet and create chances for others as well as himself continues to make him a dangerous figure to have in the lineup every day.
His eight goals in the league were the second-most on the Toffees behind Romelu Lukaku. He tied Gerard Deulofeu for the most assists on the team with eight of those as well. And his 86 percent pass accuracy was the best of any attacking player wearing an Everton crest. According to WhoScored.com, Barkley registered an average match rating of 7.31 against Premier League competition; the best mark on the team.
He did all of this while remaining healthy the entire year, playing in all 38 league games, four FA Cup matches and six Capital One Cup fixtures.
What he could have done better
As Barkley goes, so does the rest of the squad. The problem with that is that Ross can disappear at times, leading to a sluggish Everton team on the day. Given that scenario, it was normal to see Barkley as one of the first starters sent to the bench and be replaced by a less-inspired option such as Tom Cleverley. More consistent performances from Barkley would allow the Blues to keep their most dangerous team on the field and, theoretically, lead to more goals and more points.
When Barkley does struggle, he is prone to forcing a shot or a pass that isn't there, losing possession for Everton. While the Liverpool-born midfielder is as talented with his feet as they come, he can hog the ball and try to beat a team of XI all alone rather than simply pull the ball back, pass it off and live to fight another day. That said, he still won't be 23 years old until December and young players have the tendency to think they are capable of a little more than they might actually be.
The summer ahead
Barkley is one of two Evertonians (along with John Stones) named to the provisional 26-man team for England ahead of the summer's Euros. There is no foreseeable reason why he would not make the final team and will likely get a start or two as well. It is the most impressive squad the Three Lions have put together in some time and they seem poised to go far in the tournament. In fact, anything short of a semi-final run may be looked at as a disappointment.
The bigger question is "Will Barkley be back on Merseyside at the end of the summer?" If he has a big showing at the Euros, he could be as good as gone. But it's unlikely for him to go far as nearly all of the top talent from England, stays there, signing with one of the "big clubs" in the Premier League. Everyone loves to compare Barkley to former Blue Wayne Rooney. He could very well follow that man's path to Manchester. Whether he dons the United red or the City blue remains to be seen.
The board's decision on who will be Everton's next manager will hold a lot of weight on where Barkley goes. The supporters would be gutted to lose a man like Ross. He is not perfect, but he is one of them and should prove to be a solid, sometimes remarkable, English player for the next decade.
Final Grade: B
This campaign was the finest of Barkley's young career, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. He is getting to the age where you expect more consistent performances. Everton cannot afford to have one of their best players disappear in times of need.
His moments of magic far outweigh his bone-headed decisions. In a season of turmoil at Goodison Park, Barkley was a bright spot that we hope will keep on shining for some time to come.