Ross Barkley’s Villa debut was full of promise | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Since making his Premier League debut for Everton in 2011, Ross Barkley has gone on to become one of the biggest enigmas in England’s top flight.
No-one would suggest for a second that he was a bad player – 33 England caps and 283 appearances for some of the most prestigious clubs in the country are enough to quash that proposal – it’s just he could be brilliant. But he isn’t.
Barkley’s linkup play with Grealish was a highlight of the night | Pool/Getty Images
Pace, strength, guile, ability, he’s got the lot. So why is he not one of the best midfielders in the league?
The truth is there’s one major flaw in the 26-year-old’s game – yes, we thought the same, only 26 – which severely hampers his progression, yet Aston Villa may have just solved the puzzle that is Ross Barkley.
The England man’s arrival at Villa Park seemed a smart move for all concerned. He wasn’t going to get the game time needed to progress at Chelsea and Villa’s squad was in dire need of some quality additions.
However, the one area of the Villa team you could argue didn’t need reinforcements was their central midfield, with standout performers Douglas Luiz and John McGinn mainstays of Dean Smith’s starting XI.
What a team performance that was, enjoyed every minute of it! Just the start… Well played boys! @AVFCOfficial ???? pic.twitter.com/zLhE2v442Z
— Ross Barkley (@RBarkley8) October 4, 2020
As such the Chelsea loanee was pushed further up the field for his debut against Liverpool, and while his wayward finishing saw his goal tally for the day limited to just one, the positions he took up and his linkup play with Jack Grealish in particular provided plenty of early promise.
Arguably Barkley’s biggest strength is his ability to pick up the ball from deep and drive at players, however, his greatest asset also brings about his greatest weakness – decision making. The former Everton man’s choice of final ball lets him down time and time again, and it doesn’t seem to be an area of his game which is developing.
Smith’s decision to play Barkley off Ollie Watkins meant that although he was unable to exploit his greatest asset of driving from deep, but he was also relieved of his biggest weakness – the England man forced to make snap decisions as the ball was zipped into him in the final third, rather than having time and space to ponder his next move.
Despite opening his Villa account against the champions, ultimately Barkley should have had two or three, with poor finishing in the first half costing him an even more memorable debut.
However, it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t been a regular starter in any team for a long time now.
Injuries and squad rotation have undoubtedly played a part in his lack of development, with the on-loan Chelsea man completing 90 minutes of Premier League football just seven times in the past three years.
While a consistent run of games will of course aid the midfielder, one other member of the Villa squad who clearly relished Barkley’s inclusion was talisman Grealish.
So often the burden to produce a piece of magic falls on the Villa captain’s shoulders, with multiple opposition players surrounding him on the left wing and his teammates watching on in the hope he dances past them and stick it in the top corner.
However, Barkley’s runs from midfield offered an outlet for Grealish, with his nutmeg of Virgil van Dijk in particular a highlight as he slid a perfectly weighted through ball to his teammate, only for the Villa debutant to drag his effort wide.
Ross Barkley’s all-round performance was superb against Liverpool | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
The two linked up seamlessly throughout the night and it was evident that Grealish was relishing the incisive runs being made by his England colleague.
If Barkley can stay fit and is afforded a consistent run of games then we could be finally about to see the best of a man whose early career promised so much, and if his linkup play with Grealish continues to flourish then Villa could be in for a treat – and who knows, maybe England too?