There have been landmarks for Ross Barkley in the past week which have gone unnoticed but are significant nonetheless. By playing for Luton in matches against Arsenal and Manchester City, he has started seven consecutive Premier League matches, something he has not done in six years.
It has been a long period in the wilderness for the Merseyside child prodigy, out of the picture during his four years at Chelsea, then out of sight and out of mind at Nice last year when he was getting games under his belt. There was a time when he would be more likely to be seen playing for England, with 11 of his 33 caps coming after his ill-fitted move to Stamford Bridge.
He has returned to the Premier League this season and has been reborn in Bedfordshire. Towards the start of the campaign he picked up an injury that limited his involvement but since getting back into Rob Edwards’ starting line-up, it has been seven straight games and signs of the player seen at Everton when he looked beyond his years in midfield.
“I’ve seen the Ross Barkley that we all know and love when he’s enjoying his football and performing like this,” said Edwards. “He’s a joy to watch. He’s working so, so hard. He’s come in with real humility and he’s showing what he’s about, just being the best Ross possible. We’re giving him the platform to do that and we’re delighted with him.”
Barkley looks different to when we last saw him in the Premier League. It would be wrong to say he looks leaner, as there is plenty of upper-torso muscle that can see him bounce off his opponents as he carries that ball. But he certainly looks athletic, with his chest puffed out as he jostles in the middle of the park.
When he got on the ball against City, he was effective in driving his team forward and causing problems for Rodri, who wanted to control the game by dominating that area of the pitch. With an eye for goal, he could have got on the scoresheet with an effort from the edge of the area that would have put his team 2-0 up at the interval. Different story at 2-0.
In the end, City fought back as they so often do and emerged victorious but Barkley is making his mark on the Premier League this season. He caught the eye against Arsenal last week and this was another performance that he can rack up as a positive step on his return to England.
So this is Barkley returning with a point to prove? “Perhaps. You’d have to ask him and I don’t know exactly how he feels but he’s got the bit between his teeth. He’s hungry. You can see that with what he’s doing on the pitch,” added Edwards.
Next for Luton is a series of matches that are not easy but one they should not be daunted by. Bournemouth away, Newcastle at home, Sheffield United away and then one that Barkley may have his eye on – a Kenilworth Road clash against Chelsea. If there was a fixture he would like to take this form into, that would be it.
It will be Barkley who will have a big say if Luton are to pull off the survival escape that Edwards believes they are capable of. They have played well in these matches against the title-chasers, but have to find a way to pick up wins.
“In the cold light of day the guys will reflect and take confidence but they are flat and down in there,” he said. We go into every game believing we can get something from the game and if we don’t, that is when you’re struggling. They are hurting right now.”