What might have been for Ross Barkley at Aston Villa

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Ross Barkley

Ross Barkley will part ways with Aston Villa following a loan spell that failed to get going after a hamstring injury seemingly ended the impressive form he was showing at the start of the Premier League season.

The on-loan Chelsea man has shown both sides of his game at Villa this season – and now the midfielder is facing an intriguing summer.

Barkley’s future seems highly unlikely to lie at Villa after disappointing upon his return from a hamstring issue in January.

Before picking up the injury in a home loss to Brighton in November, Villa fans were ruining a missed opportunity to watch what were top performances week in, week out from the England international.

Calls to sign him up in January and pay whatever it would take to get him out of Stamford Bridge was the general consensus of a Villa fan base desperate to watch Barkley in the flesh when fans could finally return to stadiums in the new season.

Though, after failing to live up to the form he was showing before his injury blow, Barkley will be playing his final game for Villa against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday as Villa host his parent club, Chelsea at Villa Park at the weekend.

Despite picking up form of late, Barkley’s succession of starts in Dean Smith’s side can’t be read into an awful lot after the Villa boss has already quashed the possibility of signing the former Everton midfielder on a permanent deal.

He told the Mirror: “No, Ross Barkley came in on loan at the start of the season.

“Obviously, Frank Lampard was the manager at the time we brokered a deal to bring him in on loan.

“He’s got another two years left on his contract at Chelsea, and that’s not been discussed at all.”

There is no doubt that Barkley can be a quality Premier League player, but his inconsistency has been a major problem since leaving the Toffees in 2018.

While he is unlikely to become a key part of Thomas Tuchel’s plans at Stamford Bridge, he might have to leave on loan again or permanently in the summer, with Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United one possible suitor, according to reports.

Barkley needs to join a club where the manager trusts him and will give him the regular game time he needs to regain his form. Although, much of that is what Smith has afforded the attacking midfielder this season.

Without the carrot of securing a place in England’s EURO 2020 squad – as his injury coincided with the impressive form of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and even Jesse Lingard – Barkley’s second half of the season at Villa Park promised so much but delivered so little.

Scoring the winning goal against Southampton remains Barkley’s last goal involvement, but after registering two goals and an assist in the five starts he managed for Villa at the start of his loan move, there were promising signs from the start.

Few players would have enjoyed that 7-2 thumping over Premier League Champions, Liverpool more so than the boyhood Everton fan and by following it up with a decisive strike at the King Power Stadium a week later highlighted that match-winning quality that Villa would require to break into the European spots this season.

For one reason or another, the loss of Jack Grealish to injury and indeed the drop off in form of Barkley, Smith’s side haven’t realised the form they found earlier in the campaign when fans were anxiously reaching for dusty passports ahead of a potential European tour next season.

Barkley’s injury the source of his drop off in form

After walking down the Villa Park tunnel holding his hamstring only several minutes into Brighton’s visit to B6, Barkley’s instrumental creative presence earlier in the season was to be a key loss to Smith’s side.

Losses to Brighton and West Ham followed Barkley’s last start at The Emirates before his injury, and barring a suspended Newcastle tie due to Bodymoor Heath’s coronavirus outbreak, Barkley missed seven Premier League games including a 0-0 draw against Burnley.

Relieving the creative dependence on Grealish isn’t something that Villa’s No.10 had necessarily minded, nor the responsibility to carry his club through games, but having made their best start to a Premier League campaign, Barkley’s flourishing partnership with Grealish was halted after his hamstring problem.

While Grealish would still attract several markers, and the customary five to ten fouls during 90 minutes of football, Barkley was another big problem for opposition players that are usually only tasked with mitigating Grealish’s influence.

Up until Barkley’s injury setback, only Salah has made more touches in opposition boxes than Grealish. 75 touches in the box for Villa’s creative man might not come as a surprise with the amount of progressive running he gets through with the ball, but given Villa’s pragmatic low block on the road earlier this season, there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Villa were becoming increasingly efficient through defensive and attacking transitions.

Barkley made his way to Villa Park in September 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.

Barkley played a vital role in securing Villa’s third consecutive win of the Premier League season in September on his debut against Liverpool in what will become a Premier League classic. He contributed with a goal and made 26 accurate passes as Villa swept away the reigning champions.

Followed up with a quality match-winning goal against Leicester, Smith had added proven quality to a team that had included little in the way of top-flight experience except for Grealish in attacking departments before this season got underway.

Villa’s two creative forces 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. Having renewed acquaintances on the pitch, Barkley won’t be penning a permanent deal to make his latest link-up with Grealish last.

“We’re mates off the field and we know each other well,” Barkley said as he penned a loan move to Villa in September.

Barkley and Grealish are friends off the pitch

Although Grealish would argue he can play his best football in the role Barkley had occupied before he sustained a muscular injury last year, Villa’s captain once again started the campaign in exceptional form. Six goal contributions in Villa’s opening four games was an early return that backed up Smith’s decision to use both Grealish and Barkley in tandem.

Chelsea manager Lampard has previously lauded Barkley’s willingness to improve as a player, by publicly praising the player’s “desire to learn.” Villa’s midfielder 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 continue to 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 revelling 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.

Barkley will now depart from Villa Park with a sense of what might have been at a club that offered him the opportunity to restore a level form that would have put him in contention for a place at EURO 2020.

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