Three years ago Ross Barkley was on the shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Of those 2014 nominees, only the subsequent winner Eden Hazard has raised his game to the high level predicted – and is now growing to be a great.
Much, much more was expected of Barkley, Luke Shaw, Daniel Sturridge, Aaron Ramsey and Raheem Sterling. They have somewhat regressed rather than progressed, burdened by massive price tags, injuries and the demands placed, particularly, on young English or British players.
As Barkley drove forward fearlessly with finesse and flamboyance in assured midfield displays, former Everton manager Roberto Martinez claimed he was a mix of Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack, while Frank Lampard lauded him as a young Wayne Rooney. There was a buzz about Barkley for club and country.
Fast forward three years and the 23-year-old’s future is uncertain. Given a deadline of Sunday’s final Premier League game to commit to a new contract – as his current one ends next summer – or be sold, Barkley has not signed. Nor does he look he will, barring a late change of heart or more financial incentive.
With striker Romelu Lukaku also rejecting a new deal amid interest from several suitors, boss Ronald Koeman is already looking at replacements.
The signs are that Barkley will end his 12-year association at his hometown club and it looks best for a career that has stagnated rather than soared as he has endured difficulties on and off the pitch.
The Champions League is seemingly the target of his ambitions and understandably so, but right now it is difficult to see him being a starter for any of the English qualifiers, or prospective, in next season’s competition.
Criticised for his inconsistency and being too individualistic, some frustrated Everton followers feel he shouldn’t even be a first-choice for them and he won’t be missed.
Tottenham have been linked more than most, but is he on a par with Dele Alli? A resounding no. And with Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele, it is a midfield where Barkley could struggle to command regular action – apart from off the bench.
Over at champions Chelsea, Willian and Cesc Fabregas can’t even get into their first XI and Antonio Conte’s system may not be suited to his style, while rivals Liverpool will be a no-go.
He is not better than David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne who play in similar attacking midfield roles for Manchester City, nor Paul Pogba at United.
If he is looking at the best place to get starts and come up against Europe’s elite in the future then Arsenal – Everton’s opponents on the final day of the season – appear the best option.
Increasingly convinced Ronald Koeman would not bat an eyelid or lose a single second of sleep if he had to sell Ross Barkley.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) May 11, 2017
Even more so if Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez depart the Emirates as Barkley may be afforded the forward roaming role that allows him to be creative rather then constrained.
What seems clear is that he needs a fresh start and a show of faith from his managers as he is in danger of becoming another youngster who was over-hyped and ended up disappointingly ordinary. Take Francis Jeffers and Theo Walcott, both Gunners, as prime examples of under-achievement.
Even Jake Livermore, James Ward-Prowse and the injury-hit Jack Wilshere have played ahead of Barkley for England recently and he faces a fight to make the squad for the 2018 World Cup finals.
Rather than accept being a reserve, maybe Barkley needs to reinvent himself to rise again.
Fans love the schoolyard mentality of trying to dribble past everyone, showing off tricks or shooting from outrageous distances, but few are actually able to pull it off.
If Barkley can become more disciplined, intelligent, in his play, he could well thrive as a deep-lying playmaker, possessing a good range of passing and energy to orchestrate attacks – a type the top clubs always want in the modern game.
He is not worth the £40-50 million that Everton reportedly want, but if he addresses areas where he can improve – just like Sterling has done at City under Pep Guardiola – then there is still time for him to flourish rather than flounder.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has money to spend in this summer’s transfer market and believes Champions League football will be the “icing on the cake” for prospective targets.
However, he believes the historical “power and size” of the club has been enhanced by the success of this campaign and the vibe he has got from enquiries already made for potential signings is more positive than this time last year.
Klopp is asked if Liverpool are in a good financial position to get the players they need this summer, says "Yes."— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) May 19, 2017
Nevertheless, securing a top-four finish is imperative on the final weekend of the season if that bubble is not to be burst.
“The Champions League, for different reasons, is a wonderful competition,” said Klopp.”
“You can earn a lot of money there, that’s money we didn’t have last year – but we are already in a good position.”
“We are a club without financial problems and we have money to spend but it makes sense to think before we spend and that is what we are doing.”
A victory over Middlesbrough on Sunday will guarantee Champions League football and that could be the final convincing factor when it comes down to a player deciding whether to join Klopp at Anfield.
Klopp says Liverpool will stay focused for Champions League pic.twitter.com/2sqgRItya2— Liverpool Echo Video (@LivEchoVideo) May 18, 2017
“The Champions League would be the icing on the cake but that’s it,” he added.
“It should not sound negative but if Champions League is the only reason why a player is coming it makes no sense for him or for us because one year of not qualifying and the player decides (he) wants another Champions League club.”
“It is important for players because that is what they want to play but the progress and development and positive perspective of a club is important for players and we are powerful in a lot of parts of the game.”
“We will be successful in the future but for this we need the players, of course. We have very good players and we need a few more.”
🎥 Klopp on Liverpool's summer transfer plans. pic.twitter.com/NjIJY5Zz70— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) May 19, 2017
Fourth-placed Liverpool are a point ahead of Arsenal heading into the last game and as long as they match the Gunners’ result they will play in Europe’s elite competition for only the second time in the last eight years.
But should they drop to fifth, Klopp is still confident the progress made this season will be enough to persuade some of his targets it is still worth a move.
“Even from outside Liverpool always looked a massive club,” he said.
“Chelsea has the money, Man City is now coming up – wonderful players, big signings – Man United is Man United, but we are a really interesting project.”
“Everyone can see from outside. The mood is different, a few people are different, but the base is there.”
“It is still the power and size of this club and then the perspective and that has changed, we feel it in the talks (with players).”
Klopp: "I felt from the moment I came here it’s a big honour. I can’t stop thinking about it. There’s pressure but pressure is no problem."— LFC KNOWLEDGE (@LFCknowledge) May 19, 2017
“They have to see it, they have to feel it and they have to make a decision.”
“We’ve made a decision before we go into the talks, of course, because that is always how it is because you commit 100 per cent.”
“Plan A player says ‘Aaah, sounds all good but…’, plan B you are not sure and plan C you have to decide when A and B are not there.
“That is really difficult but the players are really positive this year compared to last year because they have seen our way, our football and that is good.”
Provided by Press Association
With the Premier League title and relegation already decided, there is only Champions League qualification to play for in the final weekend’s matches… or is there?
Here are ten reasons to pay attention to each of Sunday’s games.
ARSENAL V EVERTON
Arsenal’s midweek win over Sunderland kept them in the Champions League picture, meaning they can displace Liverpool or possibly Manchester City with a win. A draw could be enough if Liverpool lose by at least two goals at home to relegated Middlesbrough. Everton are set in the Europa League but Romelu Lukaku needs to respond to Tottenham’s Harry Kane moving two clear in the Golden Boot race.
BURNLEY V WEST HAM
Almost equally significant, the Turf Moor clash will determine who is the best team in claret and blue – Burnley, on 40 points, need a win to overtake the Hammers who have 42.
CHELSEA V SUNDERLAND
Victory for Chelsea would be a record 30th in a Premier League season, breaking their own mark from the first two years of Jose Mourinho’s initial reign as manager in 2004-05 and 2005-06. The record even encompasses the competition’s early years after rebranding, when the season comprised 42 games rather than 38.
Even if they lose, they will finish with more wins this season than opponents Sunderland have points.
HULL V TOTTENHAM
After scoring four against Leicester, Kane will be out to add to his 26 league goals and make it impossible for Lukaku to deny him top-scorer honours. If Hull can sign off with a win after being condemned to relegation, it would equal their highest Premier League points total of 37 set in 2013-14.
LECIESTER V BOURNEMOUTH
A massive game for both teams as they battle for the accolade of highest-placed English manager. Victory for Craig Shakespeare will give him the bragging rights over Eddie Howe as his side will finish 10th, one place ahead of the Cherries. It would also avoid Leicester becoming the first Premier League champions to finish the following season in the bottom half of the table.
LIVERPOOL V MIDDLESBROUGH
Actual footballing consequences riding on this one, with Liverpool needing a win to make sure of their Champions League place. Relegated Boro have the fewest wins and goals in the top flight this season, but have the chance to catch Sunderland on both fronts with the Black Cats just one ahead.
MANCHESTER UNITED V CRYSTAL PALACE
United will finish sixth and are entirely focused on the Europa League final, so what is at stake here is good old-fashioned cash – each place in the final table is worth a reported £1.9million in additional prize money and Palace can finish anywhere from 11th to, technically, 17th (although Swansea’s poor goal difference makes that unlikely).
The match, therefore, is worth a potential £11.4m to them – roughly what they paid for midfielder Luka Milivojevic.
SOUTHAMPTON V STOKE
After the European places, everybody wants to be best of the rest, right? Right? Fans of eighth-placed Saints will be nervously biting their nails to see if their side can hold off West Brom, Bournemouth and theoretically Leicester for the prestigious honour. Stoke, on the same points total as Palace, are therefore playing for approximately one Xherdan Shaqiri’s worth of transfer funds.
SWANSEA V WEST BROM
Howe and Shakespeare may top the English managers table, but West Brom’s Welsh boss Tony Pulis still occupies top spot as far as Britain is concerned and will need a result to hold on to that spot. Paul Clement, with survival assured, could still move above Burnley’s Sean Dyche in the standings as well.
WATFORD V MANCHESTER CITY
A point would rubber-stamp City’s Champions League spot and most likely direct passage to the group stage, although if Liverpool rack up the goals then a win may be required to keep hold of third place. Watford have lost five in a row – another would see Walter Mazzarri end his reign by matching Hull and Palace for the season’s worst losing run.
Provided by Press Association