Talking Tactics

Rejuvenated Barkley can lead Luton to Premier League safety

By Adrian Clarke 7 Jan 2024
Barkley V2

Adrian Clarke on how the midfielder has become a key figure ahead of crucial match at Burnley on Friday

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 21.

Player analysis: Ross Barkley (Luton)

Rolling back the years, Barkley has rejuvenated his Premier League career with Luton Town.

The 30-year-old signed on a free transfer has exuded quality on the left of a central-midfield pairing while playing every minute of the Hatters’ last 10 matches.

He is adding calmness in possession, an ability to break the lines with a dribble and a goal threat - while also fitting in with his new club’s tremendous work ethic. Barkley has been nothing short of outstanding.

His class in midfield has potential to tip the balance in Luton’s favour during their key clash at Burnley on Friday evening.

Ball-carrying brilliance

Barkley has always been a wonderful ball carrier, and in recent weeks he’s proved this aspect of his play has not diminished.

As a No 10 he would regularly skip past opponents inside the final third in his younger days, but for Luton he is using that skill to open the pitch up and drive at rival teams from deeper areas.

Only three Premier League players, Mohammed Kudus, Luca Koleosho and Eberechi Eze, complete more dribbles per 90 minutes than Barkley, who tops the rankings for players that occupy a similar deep-lying role.

Central midfielder dribbling stats
Player Dribbles attempted* Player Dribbles completed*
Barkley 3.68 Barkley 2.43
McGinn 3.11 McGinn 2.00
Guimaraes 2.79 Guimaraes 1.88
Bissouma 2.74 Bissouma 1.78
Szoboszlai 2.54 Sarr 1.15

*Per 90 minutes

He scored a superb goal against Arsenal after initially skipping past two players inside his own half and surging into Gunners territory.

Following that mesmeric run, he exchanged passes with Andros Townsend before firing a low shot past David Raya.

This is the kind of game-changing brilliance he adds to a Luton side that does not contain many other individuals with natural guile or flair.

Barkley's goal v Arsenal

Below is another example of how Barkley can instigate an attack with one moment of solo excellence.

Receiving a pass with his back to Conor Gallagher against former club Chelsea, he effortlessly turned his marker with a piece of skill before driving at the heart of their back four.

If Burnley opt to get tight to Barkley in a bid to stifle his influence, he has the talent to replicate this type of move.

Improving Luton in the opposition half

Prior to the start of 2023/24, manager Rob Edwards knew he had a squad full of character, spirit and endeavour, and players who will carry out his tactical instructions in a disciplined manner.

What his group lacked was top-level experience and somebody with wonderful quality on the ball – and his decision to bring in Barkley to fulfil that role has paid off handsomely.

Despite making only 12 starts, he is their most prolific passer all over the pitch.

Barkley's attacking stats & club rank
  Total Luton rank
Successful passes 421 1st
Successful passes in opp. half 227 1st
Successful passes into final third 123 1st
Ball recoveries 99 1st
Shots 31 2nd
Chances created 14 3rd

He also tops Luton’s rankings for ball recoveries and has had more shots than all but one team-mate so far this season.

Attempting 20 strikes from outside the box already, he is 11 clear of Townsend, who also likes to have efforts from distance.

Key to staying up

Luton have been great for Barkley, and he has certainly been fantastic for the team, but their target is Premier League safety, and that is yet to be secured.

The midfield maestro will definitely be a key man at Turf Moor in what promises to be a pivotal encounter in the battle to stay up.

Beyond Friday's match, Barkley's form and fitness between now and the end of the season could also define where Luton finish in the table.

Also in this series

Part 2: What Newcastle must do to withstand Man City pressure
Part 3: Why Everton's path to a return to form lies in the air
Part 4: How can Man Utd unlock Hojlund's vast potential?

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