In the space of two months, Ross Barkley has made the transformation from potential star of the future—a tag he held for many years—to a star of the present.
So often an unused substitute over the past few seasons with Everton, or whisked out on loan, Barkley struggled to find consistency. But new manager Roberto Martinez has come in and shown faith in the youngster, making him a key part of his system.
Barkley's performances have been hugely impressive—impressive enough to earn international recognition despite just 12 career starts in the Premier League.
However, every player has scope to improve, especially one so young. Barkley's performances have still contained rash moments of naivety, and his potential to progress centres around his awareness.
One of the reasons David Moyes remained so cautious with the youngster was his knack of losing the ball in dangerous positions—often when trying something overly adventurous.
Martinez seems to have tempered that, slightly, but he's also used Barkley in a more advanced role than Moyes.
As this graphic of his recent game against Hull highlights, his influence is almost entirely in the opposition's half, which is where it needs to be at this stage of his career. It allows others to cover any lapse of judgement as he looks for that killer pass.
Moyes often used Barkley in an orthodox midfield role, or on a flank—areas where a turnover could prove far more costly to Everton.
Barkley still surrenders possession too much. He's been dispossessed 19 times this season, the fifth most in the Premier League.
That's certainly not the mark of a poor player—Daniel Sturridge (28) and Sergio Aguero (21) are two of the players ahead of Barkley. Instead it's the mark of an explosive player, capable of the sublime via individual flair, but occasionally guilty of trying too much.
Martinez has recognised this, wisely advancing his position up the field. It also means his successful input is more likely to influence a goal.
This is obviously still an area for Barkley to work on, and with experience he should gain a better awareness of when to try certain passes. He certainly will need to reduce his concessions if selected for England, who don't maintain so much of the ball.
Barkley has enough positional nous and bite in his tackle to suggest he may yet develop into a box-to-box midfielder—perhaps in the mould of Steven Gerrard, whom his forward play is already mimicking. However, to achieve that, he needs to be more reliable on the ball when in the defensive half of the field.
Another area Barkley can improve also relates to his awareness, but this time in relation to his decision-making in the final third.
So far, Barkley's been dribbling around defenders for fun. He's beaten 32 players from 45 attempts; behind only Andros Townsend in the Premier League (who has a lower success-rate).
However, it's when he's past the first man that there's potential to grow. With one man beaten, defences lose their shape and fly toward the ball carrier, making a quick through-ball almost impossible to cover.
Barkley's attempted just three so far this season, successful with one, and this is a category a player in his role will need to show a more successful return in.
It explains why he's looked so much better playing with Romelu Lukaku than Nikica Jelavic. The Croatian thrives on through-balls and found himself starved of service, while the Belgian is happy linking up with midfielders.
Above is an example of when Barkley should have played a through-ball to Jelavic, but instead he opted for a square pass to Steven Pienaar.
This is also linked with Barkley's chance creation. Thus far he's created eight chances in eight games, which is a decent ratio, but one he should improve on over the rest of the season.
Too often he resorts to shooting—a trait that is an undoubted strength—but slotting a subtle pass to a striker, with defenders rushing toward him, carries the higher success-rate. He needs to keep his head up and find his striker in the box.
The main attraction with Barkley is just how substantial his potential is and how far it could take him.
Technically he's already highly advanced for his age, blessed with two good feet, excellent vision, a wide range of passing and a fierce shot.
Improving his awareness and decision-making all over the field will come with experience, and it will move him closer to the finished article.
If he keeps working hard to hone his craft, the sky is truly the limit.
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