Ross Barkley proving vital for Chelsea and England
From a career at Everton that looked to have stalled, Ross Barkley moved to Chelsea amidst scepticism about what he will bring to the table at Stamford Bridge. For a club with high ambitions and parading some of the best players in the world, there was certainly no room for extra load. Many of the club's faithful wondered if he was the right signing considering the fact that the midfield was a huge problem area for then manager Antonio Conte.
Lacking form as he recovered from injury, he made just a handful of appearances for the Blues last term under Conte. There were far from convincing and did little to help the club avoid finishing outside the top four. Under such circumstances, his future with the club hanged in the balance.
When Maurizio Sarri replaced his fellow countryman in the dugout, he brought in two more midfielders that could easily have limited or even shut out the former Everton man from the team.
Jorginho turned down a chance to play for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, preferring to follow his former manager at Napoli to London. Real Madrid's midfielder Mateo Kovacic also came in from Spain in search of regular playing time. The duo automatically ranked higher in the pecking order.
It was up to the Englishman to make his own opportunities. And that is what he has done as he is now one of the key men in a much transformed Chelsea side that is pushing for the Premier League title.
Playing some of his best football, the midfielder appears to have put in a lot of work to adapt to his manager's tactics and raise his performance level.
Eight appearances in nine league games and two in two in the Europa League shows his manager trusts him. And he has not disappointed. The 24-year-old has become Sarri's go-to man to see wins through or to rescue the team from defeat when it becomes likely.
Barkley brings stability, renewed energy and drive to the midfield. His ability to break up opposition play in the middle of the park and lay important passes not only helps the team regain composure and reestablish control but it also helps them score goals and kill off games.
He was at his best against Southampton where he scored one and assisted one as Chelsea thrashed the Saints 3-0. It is such performances that caught the attention of the national team manager. Gareth Southgate handed him another national team call-up after he was overlooked for the World Cup due to lack of playing time as a result of niggling injuries.
Again, he took the opportunity with both hands. He had a good outing against both Croatia and Spain as the Three Lions secured an unlikely victory against the Spaniards in Seville. That was after holding the Croats to a barren draw away.
At a time when Southgate has complained about the lack of a ball-carrying midfielder who can dictate the flow of the game with his ball-playing and distribution skills, Barkley seems to have answered the call.
He is becoming a much-needed playmaker, possessing a unique ability to spread the ball around the pitch and open up defences with inch-perfect passes to create goalscoring chances. It was one of such passes that split the Spanish defence for one of England's goals in the 3-2 Nations League win.
His latest exploit was coming off the bench to score a last-minute leveller against Manchester United on Saturday. That preserved Chelsea's unbeaten run in the league. Such important contributions can only boost his confidence to do more. That will be good news for both his club and national team manager.