Ross Barkley has made a brilliant start to life at Villa Park – his first performances in a Villa shirt are daring fans to believe that this season could reach unexpected heights.
It was so often the case that club skipper and talisman Jack Grealish would become the match-winner or saviour for a Villa side in desperate need of additional quality last season, but the club have been proactive in nursing attacking flaws in the transfer market.
Having secured the signing of Ollie Watkins – whose ‘perfect’ hat-trick on his debut was the first in the Premier League since Villa’s Tommy Johnson in 1995 – the added quality of Ross ‘Rosco’ Barkley has further improved Villa’s firepower this season.
Relieving the dependence on Grealish isn’t something that Villa’s No.10 will necessarily mind, neither the responsibility to carry his club through games, but now, as Villa have made their best start to a Premier League campaign, Barkley is proving to be instrumental to Grealish’s overall performances as well.
While Grealish will still attract several markers, and the customary five to ten fouls during 90 minutes of football, Barkley is another big problem for opposition players that are usually only tasked with mitigating Grealish’s influence.
As the ever-improving John McGinn showed more glimpses of his former self by ‘bum-rolling’ past Timothy Castagne before passing inside to Barkley, Villa’s loanee moved through the middle off the pitch with confidence. Barkley set his sights and won all the points at the King-Power as Grealish’s movement to afford McGinn space to roam was proof that Villa’s dynamic attack will cause many teams so many problems this season.
Dean Smith now has the luxury of picking multiple match-winners.
Barkley made his way to Villa Park last month having fallen down the pecking order at Chelsea, following a huge summer of spending in West London. Particularly, Chelsea’s capture of Kai Havertz seems to have all but ended Barkley’s two and a half year stay at Stamford Bridge – now he’s catching the eye of the country once again at Villa.
Barkley was instrumental on his debut against Liverpool in what will become a Premier League classic, contributing with a goal while making 26 accurate passes as Villa swept away the reigning champions. Now following up his first outing with a match-winning goal at the King Power Stadium, Dean Smith has added proven quality to a team that had included little in the way of top-flight experience except Jack Grealish in attacking departments.
Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish renewing acquaintances on the pitch
Barkley and Grealish were constantly texting back and forth as Villa’s skipper turned agent in order to persuade the former Everton man that he could rediscover the form he showed from an early age on Merseyside at Villa. The two are now renewing acquaintances on the pitch.
“We’re mates off the field and we know each other well,” Barkley said as he penned a loan move to Villa Park.
“We’ve spoken previously and I’m looking forward to playing with him. I’ve spoken to him over the past couple of weeks and he’s been telling me about how good the club is and how welcomed I’d be when I came here.”
Although Grealish would argue he can play his best football in the role Barkley has occupied in his first few games under Dean Smith, Grealish has once more started the new season in exceptional form. Six goal contributions in Villa’s opening four games is a return that backs-up Smith’s decision to use both Grealish and Barkley in tandem.
Villa fans were salivating at the prospect of watching the two combine as Smith’s Villa started life in their second Premier League season with solid wins over Sheffield United and Fulham. Retaining a perfect start in the league with games against Liverpool and Leicester also down – Villa’s attacking duo are a major part of Villa’s early-season success.
Chelsea manager Lampard has previously lauded Barkley’s thirst to improve as a player by publicly praising the player’s “desire to learn”. Villa’s new man even hired a personal chef to improve his diet – it’s the small margins that speak volumes of Barkley’s character and willing appetite to develop and make his mark at Villa Park.
Smith has been relishing the opportunity to find the player coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs after he made 55 goal contributions for the Toffees in 179 appearances. Former Everton captain, Tim Cahill heralded Barkley as the most talented footballer he had worked with after the midfielder made his debut and won man of the match in Everton’s first home game of the 2011-12 season.
His early performances were highly praised by many pundits, including Martin Keown who predicted Barkley will “be one of the best players we’ll ever see in this country.”
Barkley was reviling in the limelight from an early age and so it was only natural comparisons were drawn to a young Wayne Rooney, who needs no introduction to the level of performance he was capable of as a youngster in blue.
Now finding his feet again in the Premier League with Villa, the 26-year-old is approaching his prime midfield years with a point to prove, and a place in England’s EURO 2021 squad is the carrot at the end of the season – Villa will be the beneficiaries for Barkley’s focus this term.
Barkley is fully invested in Villa’s season ahead. He knows if he can perform with the quality of Grealish, Douglas Luiz and McGinn around him, his place in the England side could be a certainty, and Smith’s Villa will be all the better off for it.