Ross Barkley: Pertinent small detail

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Contrary as this may sound, the best way of assessing Ross Barkley is probably to ignore his goals.

Barkley may be an aggressive player and his ability to shoot - and score - from distance is clearly relevant, but his long-term value as an attacking-midfielder will ultimately be determined by everything else that he does.

The voguing criticism of him has always been around his decision-making, so much so that even those who know nothing of Barkley and who only watch him once or twice a season can criticise that area of his game and sound well-informed.

True as that is, it doesn’t make the complaint any less valid: up to this point in his career, he has struggled with that risk/reward balance and he has become as associated with turning the ball over in bad areas and choosing inferior options as he is with anything else.

With that in mind, the reason his performance yesterday was so encouraging had nothing to do with his goal.  Everton were collectively excellent against Southampton and so much of what they did was good, but Barkley’s role - from an English perspective - was the most pleasing part of it for a neutral.

It’s the little details with him.  Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone may have combined smartly for the first goal, but Barkley’s role in the build-up is not to be overlooked.

Playing the right ball at the right time and the right pace.  He doesn’t turn inside and look for an opponent to dribble past and he doesn’t hesitate in possession at all.  He’s cognisant of what’s developing around and ahead of him and he moves the play on accordingly.

Lukaku’s second also owed a lot to the Belgian’s growing calm in front of goal, but watch the set-up carefully.  Again, it’s not only the right ball at the right time, but the execution is subtly brilliant - the ball reaches Lukaku in a way that allows him to shoot without breaking his stride and that denies Maarten Stekenlenburg the opportunity to adopt a proper starting position.

Tremendous finish from Lukaku - absolutely - but a brilliant ball from Barkley.

And that’s what he’s capable of.  His talent is really beyond dispute but, if I was an Everton fan, I would be taking more heart from seeing Ross Barkley do these little things well than I would from any thirty-yard screamer or neat, curled finish.  Long-range shooting is not a symptom of development - a player can either do it or he can’t - but becoming increasingly more astute in the build-up phases very much is and Barkley’s growing reliability in that department is the true sign of his development.

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