Has Frank Lampard unlocked Ross Barkley?
Background photo: Ben Sutherland, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Jersey #8 was made iconic at Chelsea because one man chose to perform great exploits on the football pitch while wearing it. There’s precious little to say about Frank Lampard’s immaculate Chelsea career [as a player]. Such high bars have been hitherto beyond the reach of succeeding generations who dared to put on Lampard’s famous Chelsea shirt. But what happens when the man himself coaches a player who’s trying to fit his tiny frame into such an oversized jersey? It’s time to take a long hard look at Ross Barkley under Lampard’s tutelage.
Three things characterised Lampard’s game as an attacking midfielder – pace, power and precision. Unsurprisingly, those same qualities can be identified in Barkley’s style. Although in contrast to the legend, Barkley’s time at Chelsea has been plagued with inconsistencies; sometimes not due to any fault of his.
Barkley lived up to the hype at Everton. Despite the intermittent loan spells to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, he flourished upon Merseyside and won hearts at Goodison with his raw pace, pin-point passing technique and powerful shot.
In 2017 when Romelu Lukaku ranted about Everton ‘living in the past’ and their ‘lack of ambition’, Barkley was one of the few who bought the Belgian’s idea and decided to walk from his boyhood club. The Liverpudlian found a nesting place on the Blue side of London in 2018’s winter. Just as Lukaku predicted, a move to a side with ambition comes with titles. And Barkley has lifted the FA Cup and Europa League in just about two years at Stamford Bridge. It still can’t be said that Barkley has improved at Chelsea. It’s much easier to opine that things are beginning to change.
Barkley is known as a prolific midfielder. He scored 12 times and provided 11 assists in all competitions for Everton in 2015/16. The following campaign he was Everton’s second-best scorer with five League goals and nine assists. Hamstring problems disrupted his 2017/18 but he’d done enough to secure the Chelsea deal.
There weren’t any injury concerns for Barkley last season, which goes to explain his five goals in 48 appearances for Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, but he simply wasn’t impressing as much as he did at Everton.
Under Lampard this season, the injury worries for Barkley have returned which means he’s hasn’t played nearly as much as he did for Sarri. His unavailability through the months of November and December played a part in restricting him to a miserly 19 appearances this term.
On the right side of midfield where Barkley has featured more often, the likes of N’Golo Kante and Reece James have also done remarkably well.
However, since Chelsea lost to Manchester United at the Bridge, Kante hasn’t featured and James has been forced to continue his fine job at right-back. In Kante absence, Barkley is beginning to blossom. Since the United defeat, which he didn’t feature, Barkley seems to have turned the corner. The 26-year-old has come up with three assists and a goal. That goal came in Chelsea’s emphatic 2-0 win against Premier League Champions-elect Liverpool.
Besides the goals and the assists, Barkley is looking as sharp as ever, pulling strings in midfield and carrying his team. So, what changed?
For starters, Barkley’s been helped by Chelsea injury woes in midfield. If Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Kante were all fit, his chances are likely to have come few and far between. Instead, he’s started Chelsea’s last four games in all competitions.
Lampard’s influence on Barkley cannot be overlooked. That has only been complemented by the player’s willingness really fight and prove himself. There are no guarantees Barkley has stepped up the pecking order, but watching this Liverpludian racing with the ball from his own half to smash home against a formidable opponent brings back fond memories about a man who now wears a cardigan and sits in the dugout. Perhaps that knowledge has been passed down. We’ll wait to see.