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Talking Tactics

Barkley starts to shine in Sarri's midfield

Adrian Clarke 7 Apr 2019
Ross Barkley, Chelsea

Adrian Clarke says Chelsea player is deserving of a starting spot against West Ham on Monday night

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 33.

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Ross Barkley’s performances for Chelsea have perhaps warranted more game time in his first full season at Stamford Bridge.

In the first half of 2018/19 the England international impressed against Southampton, Burnley and Huddersfield Town, scoring twice and making four assists in those three starts.

Yet he has not been able to claim a regular place in the Chelsea side.

Half of his 24 Premier League appearances this term have come as a substitute and he is yet to start more than two matches in succession.

The 25-year-old has not had an opportunity to find rhythm on the left side of central midfield.

Food for thought

Barkley’s positive impact as a starter for Chelsea is clear to see.

Their win percentage with him starting in Premier League matches is 75 per cent. This figure drops to 50 per cent without him.

The matches he missed give a further indication of his input and importance.

Of the seven matches Chelsea have lost this season, Barkley started only two of them.

He was not involved at all in losses to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth, while he was used only as a substitute in further losses at Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Are Chelsea a better team with Barkley on the pitch? The numbers suggest they might be.

Chelsea with and without Barkley
2018/19 Starter Substitute Not involved
Matches 12 12 8
Wins 9 6 4
Ave. points 2.33 1.83 1.60

Barkley has developed his off-the-ball work and earned greater trust from Maurizio Sarri. But defensively the likes of N’Golo KanteMateo Kovacic and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has made only two starts, hold a slight advantage.

As ball-winners they are more effective.

Barkley tackling comparison
2018/19 Kante Kovacic Loftus-Cheek Barkley
Tackles won 36 21 8 10
Tackle success % 56.25 61.76 80.0 66.67

However, if Chelsea’s head coach is looking for the most attack-minded option, at home to West Ham United on Monday night for example, Barkley is an asset.

Compared to Kante and Kovacic, his main rivals for a place either side of Jorginho in midfield, the former Everton man is significantly more dangerous inside the opposition half.

Barkley attacking compared 
2018/19 Kante Kovacic Loftus-Cheek Barkley
Mins/shot 213 127 63 51
Mins/goal 923 - 113 377
Mins/chance created 68 66 56 59
Mins/assist 692 759 564 282

His willingness to push forward and take shots makes him a major goal threat.

And, in possession, Barkley is also the Chelsea central midfielder most capable of unlocking opponents with a clever pass.

Three of Barkley’s four PL assists this term were high-quality moments of distribution.

He split open Southampton and Huddersfield Town with smart through-balls to assist goals for Eden Hazard.

And his silky touch and pass for Alvaro Morata at Burnley was one of the most eye-catching pieces of skill performed by a Chelsea player this season.

Maturing on the ball

In spite of the stop-start nature of his campaign, Barkley has made progress.

He looks increasingly comfortable at Stamford Bridge, and has proved to Sarri he can look after possession in a responsible manner.

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During his time at Everton, Barkley’s choice of pass was occasionally wayward.

His pass accuracy ranged between 79.2 per cent and 87.9 per cent during his time at Goodison Park. This term he has been accurate with 91.6 per cent of his passes.

Show of faith

Barkley faces stiff competition for a spot in the Chelsea midfield.

The returning Loftus-Cheek and loanee Kovacic are his immediate rivals, with Jorginho and Kante the most secure of starts.

But to extract the best from Barkley, Sarri needs to hand him a run of starts that extends beyond two matches.

If he receives that boost, it will be no surprise to see him shine.

Also in this series

Part 1: Bednarek at the heart of Southampton revival
Part 2: Freedom can help Almiron deliver on early promise
Part 3: Richarlison and Coleman thriving after tactical switch

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