Chelsea sealed a £15m deal for Everton Ross Barkley… where will the England man fit into Antonio Conte’s plans
Chelsea have completed a £15 million deal for Everton Ross Barkley, finally securing their target after a deal fell through last summer.
The champions’ bid for the 24-year-old attacking midfielder came to nothing back in August after Barkley decided to continue his recovery from hamstring surgery on Merseyside.
But Chelsea maintained their interest in the England international and a deal has now been reached even though Barkley hasn’t played a single minute of football this season.
When he does regain full fitness, we will see how much game time Barkley will get at Chelsea, a club hardly short on creative talent.
In his pomp, Barkley’s driving runs from midfield into the penalty area and incisive passing can be match-defining and Chelsea will hope this injury setback hasn’t diminished any of this impact.
His talents have been variously compared to those of Paul Gascoigne, Wayne Rooney and Michael Ballack in the past, though less so of late.
It is often easy to forget that Barkley is still only 24, given that he cracked Everton’s first team as a fresh-faced 18-year-old and won the first of 22 England caps in September 2013.
Despite this, perhaps the high point of his career so far – a superb solo goal from his own half at Newcastle in March 2014 – seems an age ago now.
Injury setbacks and fluctuating form have taken their toll, but this move would allow Barkley to turn over a new leaf and begin the second phase of his career.
The most likely way Barkley will be deployed in Antonio Conte’s usual 3-4-3 formation is alongside N’Golo Kante in the middle of the four.
Danny Drinkwater has been playing the role of late, but it has mostly been occupied by Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko in different matches this season.
Barkley is set to join this rotation, but has a shot at making the position his own with impressive form when he returns from injury.
He’ll offer a counter-balance to the hard-running, high-press game of Kante, playing the other side of the halfway line to push up in support of Chelsea’s attacks and try to offer that killer through ball.
When defences already have Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian to contend with (depending on who is playing), the sight of Barkley lurking around their penalty box threading passes won’t be a welcome one.
In bigger games, such as the draw at Arsenal on Wednesday night, Conte has favoured five across midfield – three orthodox central midfielders plus the two wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.
At the Emirates, he played all three of Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas, so Barkley could certainly fit into those three or potentially play further forward in support of the striker Alvaro Morata.
Another possibility when Chelsea play 3-4-3 is for Barkley to play on the right side of the front three, in place of either Willian or Pedro.
He occupied this role a few times for Everton last season, so adding width to his game isn’t an alien concept.
But it is from a more central role that Barkley has proved most effective in the past, yet he will face incredibly stiff competition for places, especially given that he probably won’t return until February.
It remains to be seen how often he’ll actually play and whether Conte will want to disrupt a fairly settled midfield.
Although Barkley would see some action before the end of the season, you imagine it’ll be next season before we start to see him make an impact.