Ross Barkley has always been a player that people have spoken about as a great young prospect. A few injuries and a loan spell or two led to him being removed from the public imagination. Under Roberto Martinez however Barkley has been identified as a key player, having started all five of Everton’s Premier League games this season, earning an England cap in the process. So what role can he play for Everton and England?
Barkley in stats
|Dribbles||Passes||Pass %||Key passes||Tackles||Interceptions|
Interestingly, only two players in the Premier League completed more dribbles per game than Barkley, who has been a key driving force out of the Everton midfield. Out of the players assessed here (an assortment of midfielders) he is most similar to Wilshere in his style, e.g. his ability to move on the ball and also distribute it. He is also by far the most prolific dribbler out of these players.
Of course it is quite early in the season to draw significant conclusions but thus far Jack Wilshere hasn’t been as on song as we’d expect. His pass accuracy is better than Barkley’s but Barkley is superior in all other areas, barring a slight difference in the level of interceptions. The major point of note is that compared to other English midfielders, Barkley is far more of a driving force, running out of the midfield, notably winning both free-kicks (in which Leighton Baines expertly scored) from charging runs against West Ham.
In this way he can be comparable to a young Steven Gerrard, who himself was a big driving force from the midfield, surging out with pace and power as Barkley has been doing this season. Gerrard is averaging one dribble per game, but it’s worth noting that he’s playing in a more withdrawn role now that he is older. In his prime he was a real driving force running out of that midfield.
England don’t really have a box-to-box player anymore. Perhaps Wilshere is the cloest thing they have to that. Barkley though has all the qualities to be a top class box-to-box player for his country. Good on the ball, strong in the tackle and great pace and power when driving out of the midfield.
Tactical Analysis: Box-to-box
Barkley is quite a versatile midfielder as in he can play as a no.10 (running off the front man) a no.8 (a standard centre midfielder) and also as a holding player, all quite effectively. His mobility, pace and power though is best utilized in a more advanced role. Again, this is similar to Gerrard who enjoyed a great spell under Rafa Benitez playing as the closest midfielder to Fernando Torres, using his pace and power to drive up the field and also link up the play.
If we look at his action areas from the 2-3 victory at West Ham we can see that this is the role he was playing, running between his midfield and charging forward into more advanced areas:
These are the areas he operates best in, and as stated above, with regards to winning both free-kicks from charging runs, he was very effective. In his tie only two Everton players had more touches of the ball than Barkley (Phil Jagielka and Gareth Barry).
It is of course early to suggest that Ross Barkley can have a similar career trajectory to Steven Gerrard. That being said, there are clearly similarities in their style. Especially in the way Barkley drives out of midfield for Everton to link up with the forward. Barkley is just 19 years old and playing week in week out will be of huge benefit to him and to Everton. Everton have signed well this season but their main player to watch could be Barkley, who appears to be central to Roberto Martinez’s plans.