A mention of Ross Barkley in a crowd of Everton supporters will immediately have a polarizing effect - most of the bunch will immediately burst out into song “We've Got A Diamond Called Ross Barkley”, while some will shake their heads and insist we need to sell the lad while the price is still high.
With that in mind, we asked the writers here at Royal Blue Mersey some questions about Barkley, his performances and what his future holds.
1) Is Barkley fulfilling his potential playing in the attacking midfielder role? Where and how would you use him?
Mike - Yes and no. With a player of his quality and age, there's always going to be questions about his potential and whether or not he could be doing better, and how he should be progressing each year. But I do think he's closer to fulfilling his potential in his current position than he would be playing deeper.
Tyler - He hasn’t fulfilled it yet, but I wouldn’t move him away from that position altogether. His dribbling and creativity are invaluable in the middle of the park. I do think it would interesting to see him out on the wing occasionally to mix things up. Perhaps, as a mid-game adjustment, he could swap with Kevin Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu for a few minutes. There are some easier one-on-one battles to be had out there going against full backs or wide midfielders rather than dealing with defensive mids and center backs where Barkley normally plays. In that position, he could be set up well to beat one man and then create a shot for himself or a teammate.
Matt - Depends what you expect an attacking midfielder to be. If you want him to be a 20 assist a season player a la Mesut Ozil, that's probably never going to happen. But if you want an overall attacking force who can get goals, the occasional assist and overall make things happen in that attacking third, then Barkley is well on his way.
Brian - Sometimes he is, but he doesn't have that consistency. When Barkley decides he wants the ball and wants to create he can be fantastic. But there has to be more of that and he has to get better at working with the forwards, wingers, and DMs to bring everyone into the attack.
Adam - I think a role as a No. 10 is the best place for Barkley, because I don't see him as ever being a player who can run or defend enough to sit any deeper. Also, his ability to take players on would be wasted if he was any deeper on the pitch, and with the addition of Idrissa Gueye now, there's really no need for him to play anywhere else.
Tom - Though Roberto Martinez’s reign at Everton ended disastrously he did have a positive impact on Barkley’s progression, at least initially, in an attacking midfield position. Martinez granted Barkley the freedom to make his own decisions even if that led to him making mistakes. Freed from the shackles of a rigid system Barkley was one of Everton’s best players. However, when things started to go wrong Barkley visibly struggled more than most.
Calvin - Like most of you, I also feel Barkley is at his best when freed from defensive responsibilities. He’s at his best when receiving the ball in the opponents’ half, dictating play from there.
2) How do you think Barkley did last season with most of the attack channeling through him? Should he be solely responsible going forward?
Mike - I think he did okay. He took a ton of shots and dribbled a lot, and that's good. Positionally, organizationally, defensively, he was a bit of a mess but that was the whole team under Roberto. He shouldn't be solely responsible going forward, and I'm not sure it's fair to say he was solely responsible last season--there were chunks of the campaign where everything was happening down the right through Deulofeu.
Tyler - It was the best he has looked in his still young career. But he still disappeared a lot. You would forget he was even playing for the first hour and then Martinez would sub him off. When that happened, Everton tended to lose.
I wouldn’t put him solely in charge of the attack. Simply because Everton have so many good offensive players that I’m not sure one guy can really be considered the starting point for it. On their day, I can see Mirallas, Deulofeu, Aaron Lennon or Romelu Lukaku organizing things. Scoring goals wasn’t the problem last year and, if the team stays in tact, it shouldn't be one now either.
Matt - He did alright given the fact that the team was an utter mess last year. Barkley came of age under Martinez, but I believe that he will be able to realize his full potential under Ronald Koeman.
Brian - I think Barkley can be our creator, but really he needs the defensive midfielders to be solid behind him. If the DMs are able to play long passes to spread the defense it is going to give Barkley an opportunity to create and work some magic on the ball. As much as he's the creator, that only applies around the box. Deeper than that the responsibility has to spread to every player.
Adam - No matter how good you think Barkley is, there's no way he should ever be shouldering as much of the attacking burden as he was last season. Martinez's attacking ideas were somewhere between questionable and certifiably insane, and Barkley suffered from that perhaps more than anyone. He must have true wingers playing around him, stretching the field, and opening up space for him in the center of the field. Without that, he is going to struggle (as, in fairness, most attacking midfielders in the world would).
Tom - His stats during the early part of last season speak for themselves. However, his struggles towards the end of the campaign showed he was unable – and therefore shouldn't be expected to - bear the majority of the team’s creative attacks.
Calvin - Under Martinez, it almost felt like the ball would have to go through Barkley on every attack. Koeman so far has shown that he wants to play with two real wingers at all times, which is a different attacking outlet for the Toffees, and takes some pressure off Barkley.
3) What are the areas you think Barkley can work on to improve his overall game?
Mike - Intelligence is the one you hear brought up a lot and I think it's a fair criticism. His decision-making is suspect and as such he's failed to become a true creative force.
Tyler - Pass the ball, man! Barkley is always trying to beat one more defender in times where he would be better off passing. I don’t want to kill his creativity, but he needs to learn when his run with the ball is over. The only other thing that he seems to struggle with regularly is his defense on set pieces. As an attacker, this won’t matter too often, but it does pop up now and then. On corners especially, he loses his man a lot and it leads to problems for the defense.
Matt - Decision making is the one that stands out to me as well. He has the ability to have these moments of brilliance, but when they don't happen for him, which is more often than not, you're left wondering why on earth he took that shot, or made that pass in the first place.
Brian - Barkley has to work on his decision making. Too often he held on to the ball too long, made a bad pass, or got rid of the ball too quickly. If he can improve his decision making then everything else is going to fall into place.
Adam - I'd like to see his defensive work rate and effectiveness increase, but that's not going to ultimately impact his effectiveness in the long term. More than anything, he must learn to make decisions more quickly. Too frequently, the ball finds him in or around the attacking box and he fakes three passes and two shots, does two stepovers, and then he finally makes a decision, after the defense has had time to react to him. Speeding up his game means that he will make the absolute wrong choice from time to time, but when he makes the right choice, it'll lead to good chances much more frequently.
Tom - Decision making, decision making, decision making! Barkley all too often finds himself in dangerous positions but makes the wrong choice at the key moment. This is perhaps where he needs some more coaching and the freedom given to him by Martinez proved counter productive.
Calvin - For the truly great players, the game seems to slow down around them. Barkley hasn’t yet (will he ever?) hit that groove where making the right decision on or off the ball comes to him instinctively.
4) Any other observations on Barkley?
Mike - Maybe it's just time to accept who Ross is, stop asking him to be some creative talisman, and just let him run around in the 10 spot with two solid and disciplined midfielders behind him (ideally one with some deep-lying creativity). His attacking output is consistently high as it is, so it seems silly to try to bury him deeper. With better coaching and the right players around him, there's no reason his instincts can't be channeled into a very productive player. There will always be a part of him that's maddening to watch though.
Tyler - I wonder what you do to get more out of Barkley. Like I said before, I don’t believe he has reached his full potential, but how does Koeman push him to get better? He is as skilled as they come. It’s not as if the passion or effort of Ross is ever questioned. There is no doubt amongst supporters that he is proud to have the Everton crest on his chest. So, what more can be done? Does he need competition for his starting spot? Will a new coach alone help? It is going to be a big season for him, but it looks like it has the potential to be his best yet.
Matt - I think with a little extra freedom this season and in a less constricted system he may be able to exceed his already high expectation.
Brian - This may be the last year for Barkley to get it. If he can't settle in and provide consistency it could be worth it to sell him and try some other options. With some talent coming through the academy plus a nice transfer budget, it doesn't make sense to continue on with Ross if he can't put things together at the level we need for Everton to be successful.
Adam - With how much time he has spent in the lineup in the last few seasons, it is easy to forget that Ross is still only 22 years old. Last season is a tough one to make any judgments from on nearly every player on the roster, because so much of it was a disjointed disaster. If Koeman brings a coherent, sensible attacking gameplan this season, and another winger is added to the roster to put more talent around Barkley, then this season should be a good one upon which to judge the Englishman. If either of those don't occur though, we still may be a year or two away from knowing his full potential.
Tom - There is no doubting Barkley’s ability and potential but I do fear he is judged more harshly than other players, partly down to the fact he is a local academy graduate. He is very much an instinct player but his poor decision-making means he needs to be coached very carefully. I don’t think he should pushed as deep as defensive midfield but playing centrally surrounded by disciplined players may just bring the best out of him.
Calvin - The sooner Koeman can get another talented playmaker to take the weight off Barkley’s shoulders the better. The lack of consistency from the rest of the forward options just heaps more of it on Barkley.
Weigh in with your opinions as well in the comments below, we’d like to hear what your thoughts are on Barkley.
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