FORM MAN: Ross Barkley is back to his best.

The past few months have seen Ross Barkley finally distance himself from a prolonged spell of inconsistent form. Everton’s No. 8 has rediscovered the end product more associated with his game in 2015 and, as his statistics reveal, is doing so by curbing some of his more natural instincts.

Firstly, Barkley’s shooting has greatly improved. That doesn’t mean his accuracy, but more his decision making of when and where to unleash an attempt from. Every Everton fan knows Barkley’s never been shy to shoot, but under Ronald Koeman, the midfielder’s decision making has evolved for the better.

As the stats show, in terms of sheer volume, Barkley’s shooting a similar amount as usual. This season, however, a larger proportion of his shots are from more dangerous areas of the field, where he’s more likely to test the goalkeeper and score from. At the same time, he’s also reducing his number of shots from outside the box.

Long range efforts may narrowly fizz wide, force an acrobatic save, or get the crowd off their feet, but the likelihood of them nestling in the top corner is obviously far less than an opportunity inside the box. In the Premier League, just 1 of every 33 shots from outside the area has resulted in a goal this season, compared to 1 in 6 from inside.

Barkley himself has failed to score with his last 59 shots from open play outside the box, dating back some 16 months, which underlines his need to adapt this tendency. His numbers actually suggest he’s been unlucky in front of goal this season and, if his shooting trend continues, he should expect a larger return of goals in the near future.

Similarly, Barkley’s dribbling numbers also depict a change. In every previous season he’s been an Everton regular, he’s averaged over 5 dribble attempts per 90 minutes. This season, however, Barkley’s currently averaging under half that, at just 2.5, which is a sizable shift in his game.

Under Koeman, it seems dribbling is no longer a primary objective for the midfielder. His manager has perhaps tried to iron out a weakness in Barkley’s game, in his inability to look up and find a team-mate when running at defenders. In his first few seasons, the midfielder would often breeze past opponents in an eye-catching burst, attract more markers, but then rarely find a team-mate in the space his work created.

The end result of the vast majority of Barkley’s runs would simply be a long-range shot – enough to forge a reputation for potential brilliance, but not a contribution that would consistently help his team. The fact it took him 48 games to register his first Premier League assist is very much testament to these early issues in his game. Koeman clearly wants to extract to best from Barkley to help his team, and that doesn’t involve him charging into defenders quite as much.

The final, and most encouraging aspect of Barkley’s recent progress has been the upturn in his creative return. He’s already created more chances than in any other Premier League season but, more relevantly, is doing so at a faster rate.

His overall chance total is boosted by set-piece duties, but he’s also on course for a season high of chances created from open play, which is far more important. To emphasis his recent surge in form this year, only one player, Everton transfer target Gylfi Sigurdsson, has recorded more Premier League assists in 2017, while only one other, Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, has created more chances. This is all seemingly a consequence of a more patient, imaginative approach in the final third.

Under a new manager, Everton fans are beginning to see a new, more effective version of Ross Barkley. One with his natural explosive qualities reduced in favour of more constant attacking production for his team. As Romelu Lukaku’s contractual situation seems set to occupy headlines for the foreseeable future, Everton should move fast to get Barkley’s own situation away from the gossip columns.


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