It’s hard to believe Ross Barkley is still only 24 and, now fully fit and with a full preseason under his belt, the Chelsea midfielder has earned an England recall after figuring heavily in new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri’s plans so far.
Although he joined the Stamford Bridge side from Everton in January, he’s only played a handful of games for the west London club after an injury-hit campaign last term put paid to any hopes of featuring at the World Cup 2018 in Russia.
Now Barkley is back, and not just in the Chelsea team. He’s received a call-up in amongst a youthful Three Lions senior setup that has seen Gareth Southgate select no players over the age of 28.
Given Barkley has scored just one Premier League and made a sole assist, some are surprised by his return. When you look at the injuries England have to contend with for UEFA Nations League trips to Croatia and Spain, plus the dearth of midfield options open to Southgate, however, it’s easy to see why Barkley is back in the international fold.
Chelsea are right up there as one of three sides leading the Premier League table on 20 points after eight matches. Although reigning champs Manchester City and Liverpool are both well-fancied, the Blues are a standout 9/1 in the outright Premier League betting available via bet365 and that makes them big value if they’re able to maintain their strong start to the season.
Barkley has been key to that, yet, while establishing himself in Sarri’s matchday squads, it has, for now, closed the door on a regular place for fellow England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He caught the eye with flashes of his own talent during a loan spell with London rivals Crystal Palace last season and when figuring in that England run to the World Cup 2018 semifinals.
Summer signing Jorginho, a player used to great effect in deep-lying areas by Sarri at Napoli, France’s tenacious N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Cesc Fabregas all have their own claims to press for being picked in the Chelsea midfield.
Kovacic was part of the Real Madrid side coached by Zinedine Zidane to three consecutive UEFA Champions League triumphs, while Kante and Fabregas are both World Cup winners. Considering the high profiles of the players he is vying with for a place in the Blues’ engine room, Barkley is doing well just to get first-team involvement.
Competition is clearly fierce at the Bridge and, as the season wears on, there are bound to be winners and losers. With Chelsea also involved in the UEFA Europa League and bet365 making them clear best-price 5/1 favorites to lift the trophy, Sarri seems sure to continue a policy of rotation.
As England look light in midfield, Barkley may have the daunting task of going up against Croatian counterparts that include temporary club teammate Kovacic and Ballon d’Or nominees Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The Three Lions lost in extra time when last battling the Eastern European nation, so this looks like a tough reintroduction to international football for Barkley, if involved.