“Of course I think the player needs to improve.” - Koeman
Back in December of last year, Koeman had his doubts. The consistently inconsistent Barkley was struggling to make an impact on the Everton boss and was finding himself on the bench more than he had done in previous years. Since the Liverpudlian’s return from loan in 2013 he has become a fixture of the first team. First under David Moyes and then Roberto Martinez who was keen to involve the youngster as much as possible as the hype around him continued to grow. However when Martinez departed for Koeman, Barkley found his place in the team under threat.
The introduction of Koeman saw a shift in styles from the passing game of Martinez to a more direct one. In this new way of playing, Koeman demanded more from Barkley but the problem was the player was not one to fit the natural mould that was being sought after. The Everton manager wanted a number 10 to play in behind Romelu Lukaku but that was not Barkley’s style. It’s no surprise to see the player in a similar role to that of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, arriving in the box to score rather than collecting the ball from the defence and starting the play.
Because of this, Barkley struggled to nail down a starting slot in Koeman’s 4-2-3-1 but his reemergence has coincided with the strengthening of the midfield. Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies are all new faces and Barkley himself described his current teammates as the best of his time at the club.
Perhaps the most important player in that list is Tom Davies. At 18 years of age, Davies is being touted as the next big thing in a similar way to how Barkley was. The pressure that comes with that is enjoyable for a youngster but can no doubt weigh you down over a sustained period. There is no doubt that the pressure of being Everton and England’s future had an impact on Barkley and possibly harmed his performances. But now that Davies is coming through and Dele Alli has taken away some of the spotlight, Barkley doesn’t have to feel that pressure and can return to enjoying the game.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Gareth Barry’s defensive work has allowed Barkley to push forward and play in a position he is more comfortable with. He has adapted his game to be comfortable playing in the hole behind Lukaku while also one of the front three in a 4-3-3. This allows him to both create chances and score chances in a way that Gerrard used to. Barkley has registered two assists in the past two games and since the turn of the year has set up five goals.
European football next season remains a very real possibility for Everton and they will be relying on the good form of Barkley to continue in order to achieve that. Both he and Lukaku will be subject to transfer speculation in the summer but it is pivotal to Everton’s future ambitions that Barkley be tied down.