To say Ross Barkley’s Chelsea career has been stop-start would be an understatement.
The midfielder arrived at Stamford Bridge in January 2018, four months after making a dramatic u-turn on transfer deadline day. A £35million fee had been agreed between the Blues and Everton after Barkley had rejected a new contract at Goodison Park.
But he had a change of heart after undergoing a medical and instead headed back to Merseyside, only to return to London to complete the deal midway through the season.
Ross Barkley has shown he could be back to his best after impressing since the restart in June
His first six months in a Chelsea shirt were disrupted by injuries and he made just two appearances under Antonio Conte before the Italian was replaced by Maurizio Sarri.
Barkley was in and out of the team under Sarri and struggled to show the best sides of his game on a consistent basis, despite making 27 league appearances.
Life under Frank Lampard has also been up and down but Barkley has been impressive since the Premier League restart this month and has shown glimpses he could be back to his best. Sportsmail takes a look at the midfielder’s frustrating few years and how this could be his last chance to save his Chelsea and international career.
INJURY HELL AND DISRUPTIONS
Barkley had not played for Everton in the 2017-18 season after having surgery to fix a hamstring injury but he was able to make his Chelsea debut at the end of January.
However, a setback saw a re-occurrence of the issue and he was kept out of the sidelines until the final day of the Premier League season, returning to play 54 minutes in a 3-0 defeat by Newcastle.
The following season under Sarri brought more appearances and he looked to be making progress. But a lot of that was overshadowed by Chelsea’s indifferent season in the league and talk of players becoming frustrated by the Italian’s tactics and management.
The midfielder’s time at Stamford Bridge has been disrupted by several injury setbacks
However, the club rallied in the second half of the campaign to finish in the top four and beat Arsenal in the Europa League final. Barkley played just 14 minutes in the 4-1 victory which ended up being Sarri’s last game in charge before leaving for Juventus.
The appointment of Lampard, who lined up alongside Barkley in England’s final group game at the 2014 World Cup, and a summer transfer ban gave the 26-year-old a chance to cement his place in Chelsea’s midfield.
But an ankle injury picked up at the end of October kept him on the sidelines for over a month and his opportunities in the first-team became limited until he was given a start in the 2-1 home victory over Spurs in February.
That game seemed to kick the midfielder back into life. He scored an excellent goal as the Blues knocked Liverpool out of FA Cup. He then grabbed two assists against his old side Everton in the final game before the coronavirus suspension, which brought yet more disruption to his season.
Life away from the football pitch has not proved to be any less frustrating for Barkley.
The midfielder had two incidents earlier this season which saw him make the headlines for the wrong reasons.
The first came at the start of October when a video emerged of him arguing with a taxi driver after spilling chips in the back of his car following a night out in Liverpool.
The player was allegedly taken to a cash machine by police officers to withdraw money which was later handed to the driver. Lampard stood by his player but made it clear he wasn’t impressed the incident had occurred before his side’s Champions League group clash with Lille.
He said: ‘He hasn’t committed a crime other than eating chips in the back of a cab, which is probably a bit out of order for the cabbie, but what he has done is be naive to be out on that evening in the build-up to a Champions League game.
Barkley has made the headlines for the wrong reasons on two occasions this season
‘On a professional level, those are things that shouldn’t happen. I like Ross. I’ve had absolutely no problem with him since he has been here.
‘He works hard and wants to do well for this club. He admitted to making a mistake. I will take that at face value and we move on.’
But Barkley was again caught up in controversy when he was filmed dancing with his shirt off in a Dubai nightclub after pulling out of the England squad through injury.
The club had given him permission for the holiday but the video was a bad look given he was meant to be recovering from injury.
Lampard admitted his player had shown a ‘lack of professionalism’ and it was telling that he was not immediately reinstated to the first-team when he was available for selection again.
COMPETITION FOR PLACES
While Chelsea were unable to bring in any new signings last summer, there has not been a shortage of competition for places in the midfield.
Lampard has had to choose between senior players like N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic as well as youngster Mason Mount who has had an impressive first season in the Premier League.
Billy Gilmour has also been given an opportunities by the Chelsea boss and a commanding performance in the Cup against Liverpool showed the potential of the 19-year-old.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is also fit again after recovering from a ruptured achilles which provides Barkley with even more competition in the centre of midfield.
There is no transfer ban for Lampard this summer and the club have already shown their intentions to spend big after signing striker Timo Werner for £53million.
The fight to be a first-team regular next season is set to be a fierce one at Stamford Bridge.
The emergence of young stars like Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour have provided competition
LEARNING FROM LAMPARD
Barkley always had big boots to fill when he was handed the No 8 shirt, previously worn by his current manager – who happens to be Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer.
But he has possibly the best mentor in Lampard who managed an incredible 211 goals from midfield.
Barkley’s end product has always been something that has drawn criticism but he has shown a desire to get himself into goalscoring positions in recent matches and his winner against Leicester on Sunday was a finish reminiscent of his manager.
Speaking after his goal, Barkley said: ‘The gaffer encourages it, he likes the midfielders getting into the box,’ he told the club’s official site.
‘In training every day, with repetition of arriving in the box, he encourages that and gives us tips.
‘In this game it paid off for me and any midfielder that plays for us that gets in the box will get goals.’
Barkley was handed the No 8 shirt which was worn by Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer
The fact he has not scored in the Premier League since October 2018 was mentioned regularly by the BT Sport commentators during Chelsea’s victory over Manchester City.
He managed eight goals and eight assists in the 2015-16 campaign which remains his most prolific season in the top-flight.
In comparison to the stats of Chelsea’s other central midfielders, Barkley is not too far behind despite playing fewer games.
He may not have scored in the league but he has managed four goals in all competitions as well as four assists.
A season blighted by injuries prevented Barkley from making Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad in 2018 but the England manager has made it clear he still sees the midfielder as part of his future plans.
Competition for places at international level is just as fierce with Mount and Leicester’s James Maddison recent players to breakthrough.
Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish is also constantly mentioned as someone who can make the step up and would be in direct competition with Barkley.
The Chelsea man produced one of his best performances in a Three Lions shirt back in October when he scored twice in the 6-0 win against Bulgaria but flashes of brilliance have been too infrequent at international level.
The 26-year-old produced one of his best performances in an England shirt back in October
Barkley would probably have made Southgate’s squad had the Euros gone ahead this summer but he would likely have been a squad player rather than a guaranteed starter.
With the tournament pushed back a year, the midfielder has to ensure he is playing regularly for Chelsea in order to force his way into the squad.
He will be 27 in December and the chances will start to run out if he is unable to make the most of the good form he has shown since the restart. It’s simply a case of now or never for the Englishman.