Roberto Martinez recently described Ross Barkley as ‘something special’ and an ‘incredible football diamond’. Those doubting the hype received a glimpse of his undoubted potential against Norwich on Saturday.
Nevertheless, despite announcing himself to the Premier League, Barkley has been a name on Evertonian lips for years. Overcoming a severe leg break, Barkley first arrived on the scene in August 2011. A man-of-the-match debut hinted at his promise, but any hopes of a prolonged spell in the team evaporated following an error-strewn trip to Blackburn.
Barkley lasted just 53 minutes; his misery compounded by the concession of a penalty. This was his death knell under the cautious guidance of David Moyes. Moyes doubted his readiness for the Premier League and the Liverpool-born midfielder did not start another league game in 2011-12.
Fast-forward to the present day, beyond two loan spells and fleeting cameos, and Barkley has enjoyed a largely promising pre-season. Heavily praised by his manager leading up to this opening day clash, it was unsurprising to see Barkley start at Carrow Road.
Capping a man-of-the-match display with a first Everton goal, Barkley towered above his teammates in terms of influence on proceedings. On a performance scale, this would register as near perfect. Employed in the advanced central role behind Nikica Jelavic, the young midfielder thrived away from the hustle and bustle of the midfield.
Everton currently head the league on attempted passes (564), passing accuracy (88.3%) and possession (67.5%) with Barkley a key contributor. Topping several categories, impressing on many fronts, Barkley ended the match boasting his own notable statistic.
With just the Monday night fixture remaining, the midfielder can point to the best passing accuracy of any player attempting 50+ passes (96.2%). Finding a teammate with 51 passes, only two of his 53 passes failed to reach their target.
Dragged into the midfield battle during the pre-season friendly against Real Betis, Barkley struggled to impose himself in that match and many doubted his readiness for Norwich. On Saturday, however, more disciplined in his positioning, Barkley and his teammates reaped the rewards thanks to a mature display.
Given his advanced positioning, it was understandable to see 78% of passes attempted in the opposing half. Elsewhere, only Steven Pienaar (52%) made a higher percentage of passes in the congested final third (44%). Barkley also returned the best final third accuracy (96%) – 23 / 24 final third passes were successful.
Strong with the ball at his feet, a trait emphasised by the imperious passing numbers, the one-time Leeds United loanee also excels when travelling at pace. Attempting five dribbles at an 80% success rate, only Kevin Mirallas attempted to beat an opposing player more often (6). One lung-bursting second half counterattack outlined his ability in possession.
Another strong aspect is shooting ability, which the thunderous equaliser underlined. Shifting his feet to create space, Barkley unleashed a booming effort into the far corner, as John Ruddy watched on helplessly. Attempting the most shots (4), Barkley is comfortable on either side; his weaker foot ability demonstrated perfectly by his goal.
Strong in offensive categories, Barkley capped his productive afternoon with pleasing defensive figures. Although furthest forward of the five Everton midfielders, Barkley dropped back to help when required. Standing well over 6-foot, Barkley is capable of holding his own in midfield. Winning each of his three tackles, the midfield prospect also won 60% of his ground duels (9/15).
Equipped with a sharp footballing brain – a useful tool for an attack minded player – Barkley used it to great effect defensively. Making one interception, Barkley also excelled in regaining possession. Winning possession four times in defence, four times in midfield and once in attack, an overall return of nine ball recoveries was the best of anyone in a blue shirt.
Working alongside Martinez, a manager intent on allowing talented youngsters to express their ability, Goodison Park is the perfect place for this England Under-21 star to develop. On the back of his most consistent appearance to date, the platform is there for Barkley; the onus is on this talented upstart to continue in this vein.