Why England Would Be Wrong to Start Ross Barkley, Despite Impressing vs. Ecuador

Matt Cheetham@@Matt_CheethamCorrespondent IJune 5, 2014

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Ross Barkley was one of England's leading players against Ecuador, completing several mazy runs and laying off a smart assist to Rickie Lambert.

His performance prompted more calls for Roy Hodgson to start the youngster in Brazil, as well as some peculiar post-match lines from the England manager, presumably dampening expectation:

Hodgson's comments seem odd, especially about a player far more productive when lavished with praise—as his rise under Roberto Martinez highlights.

However, at this early stage of his career, starting Barkley in England's first World Cup game would still be a mistake.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30: Alberto Rodriguez of Peru closes down Ross Barkley of England during the international friendly match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

The Everton academy product has enjoyed a successful first season as a Premier League regular.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Ross Barkley of Everton celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on May 3, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

He's enjoyed many highs: A match-winning free-kick against Swansea, a memorising individual goal against Newcastle and a stunning strike against Manchester City, among the best.

Each of these moments were outstanding, as were his individual performances in several other games throughout the season.

Yet, as with any youngster, there have been several inconsistent showings that have rarely grabbed attention—often due to Everton's lack of television coverage.

An example of this is his club's 3-0 win at Newcastle. Barkley's reputation soared due to his wonder goal and he was lauded throughout the media, yet his overall performance was very subdued.

He recorded just 35 touches, the fewest of any team-mate, and turned the ball over more than any Everton player.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  Ross Barkley of Everton scores the opening goal past Tim Krul of Newcastle United during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Everton at St James' Park on March 25, 2014 in Newcastle upon
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

He also produced one of his poorest passing displays of the season, connecting with just 76 percent of his passes—clearly a less-than-ideal return for a No. 10.

The Toffees' lack of coverage meant this was almost completely glossed over. The match wasn't shown live so only brief highlights appeared, with the youngster earning understandably rave reviews for his goal.

In truth, several of his poorer games have been similarly lost among highlight reels.

Those who only tune into this medium will be swayed towards starting the youngster; his best bits are some of the most eye-catching moments of the Premier League season.

However, at this stage of his career, there is still a substantial gap between his good and his bad. When he's bad, Barkley tends to be very bad, which could harm England at the World Cup.

This is only natural for a 20-year-oldespecially a No. 10 with such limited experiencebut it's also why he's better served making less restricted impact from the bench.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: Ross Barkley of Everton in action with Joe Ledley of Crystal Palace during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on April 16, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunsk
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Regular Everton viewers will be a little more familiar with his current inconsistencies.

Leon Osman or Steven Naismith were often preferred to Barkley towards the end of last season. In fact, the youngster played more than 45 minutes in just six of Everton's final 15 games.

Sieving through his statistics and comparing them with other possible World Cup No. 10sincluding Wayne Rooney for Englandsome of the reasons behind this argument are better revealed.

Barkley vs. Other Potential World Cup No. 10s
Games (Sub)25 (9)25 (1)24 (9)27 (2)
Goals + Assists per 90 mins0.
Shots per 903.
Shooting Accuracy38%75%45%53%
Chance Conversion12%21%15%21%
Chances Created per 901.
Passing Accuracy85%88%83%80%
Successful Dribbles per 903.
Dispossessed per 902.
Stats via Whoscored.com and Squawka.com

As these numbers show, Barkley still has a way to go to match the return of a leading No. 10.

In terms of end product, the youngster lags a long way behind these other options, most notably in chances created and his chance conversion rate—areas he will improve as he develops.

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 22:  Ross Barkley of Everton reacts after a missed chance on goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Everton at the Liberty Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Gett
Clive Rose/Getty Images

What Barkley does provide is an ability to beat people, something he's already better at than most players in England. Only Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Eden Hazard dribbled past more defenders in the Premier League last season.

This perhaps contributes to his slightly inflated (current) reputation; fans tune in to see him waltz past endless defenders during highlights which augments his overall rating.

However, while this gets people out of their seats, questions need to be asked about what actually happens once he's past an opponent, as these stats accentuate.

No assists and a lack of chances created suggests he needs to develop his awareness and look up far more—as he did so well for Lambert's goal against Ecuador.

Too often his runs end with a wayward shot as he's unable to capitalise on the space he's created for others. This will come, eventually, but even if he dribbles around all 11 opponents in Brazil, while it will look impressive, it's unlikely to lead to much end product just yet.

Barkley's combination of pace, power, technique and tenacity belong at the top of the game. There's little doubt he will get there and go on to become one of England's best players over the next decade.

At this stage of his career, however, the 20-year-old is still a project; this World Cup should be about short cameos and quick bursts of energy instead of full 90-minute showings.

In the heat of South America, he can still play a key role. In such stifling conditions, the role of a substitute will prove crucial and England would be better condensing his explosiveness into late introductions against tiring defences.

Barkley's time as an England starter will come, but this isn't the tournament to weigh him down with pressure and expectancy. He needs to play with freedom, to come on late and express himself with few tactical restrictions.

This isn't the time to depend on him from the start; all that's to come.

Statistics via WhoScored? and Squawka


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