Whether he knows it or not, this season is make-or-break for Ross Barkley at Chelsea. He just like many others get a clean slate at the club with the appointment of club legend Frank Lampard as manager. The 25-year-old has endured an indifferent spell at Stamford Bridge since joining the club in a £15m move from Everton but showed glimpses of life at times last season. One of Barcelona and Spain’s greatest midfielders Xavi once said that Barkley wouldn’t look out of place in his Barca team – I think that comment is only indicative of how much the England international has underachieved in his career so far.
He will be battling it out with Mason Mount this pre-season for that final midfield spot should Lampard operate with an attacking midfield option. Mount starred under the 41-year-old last season whilst at Derby County together – scoring 11 goals and assisting six in 44 appearances on The Rams’ way to Championship playoff final defeat. Barkley really struggled to cement his place amongst Maurizio Sarri’s starting XI, only beginning 13 matches in the Premier League last season. In 27 total PL appearances, Barkley netted three and assisted five which is quite simply not good enough for the man behind the striker. Maybe Eden Hazard took most of the limelight away considering he contributed with 16 assists notwithstanding of the 15 goals he slotted home himself.
In some ways that emphasises the fact that Barkley needs to step up as a more frequent provider of goals – there’s a big void to fill in that sense with Hazard now gone. Working against him even more is how Lampard has worked on Mount for the past year so he knows exactly the rate of his development and how he’s able make things tick at the peak of their midfield. I’d be pretty shocked if the young 20-year-old didn’t get the nod above the England international going into the season. Barkley will be given the chance however, having already played 45 minutes in the 4-0 win over St Patrick’s Athletic, he’s also part of the squad that flew out to Japan at the start of the week.
The transfer ban works in favour of the 25-year-old too – Chelsea can’t bring in any players at all this season meaning his involvement is pretty much guaranteed though he can’t rest on his laurels, if he doesn’t have a standout year he may be sold or pushed aside come next summer. Chelsea are also a club notorious for not giving their managers a long-stretch in charge and if that even crosses Lampard’s mind at any stage next season then he will have no time to continue to trust an underperforming star.
There’s some irony in it all though, Barkley adorns the number eight shirt which Lampard wore with great pride for 13 years – where he made 642 appearances, scoring 209 goals and assisting 150. The former Everton midfielder is some way off even looking likely to get a fraction of those figures and must improve next season or his time may be up in West London.