Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, has shown faith this season in Ross Barkley as his playmaker and the 20-year-old is revelling in the freedom he has been afforded.
“Things have been great under the boss,” Barkley told The Independent. “He’s helped me a lot tactically and lets me go and play my own game. He’s given me the confidence that he believes in me. He’s great with all the lads like that. He’s down to earth but very focused on what we want to achieve. We want to finish in the top four and he’s very motivated to be successful.”
Martinez, who recently described Barkley as “a diamond of English football”, is big on organisation and squad unity and takes a keen interest in how his players are training – and even sleeping.
“He is very focused on our lifestyles outside of football,” Barkley explained. “How we eat, how we sleep and that we all have our meals at the same time.”
Martinez has handed Barkley creative control of his team’s attacks at the apex of a midfield three, with Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas completing an attacking trio that has established itself during the Spaniard’s tenure.
“This season I’ve been able to play in behind the striker in the Premier League,” he said, “and, combined with our tactics of pressing higher up the pitch and the change of our shape, I’m really enjoying my football in that position.”
Everton, who visit Chelsea today, have won praise for their attractive attacking play. Not everyone in the squad took to it immediately, but Barkley has thrived. “The new philosophy took a while to sink in but I’ve got to say it definitely suits us as a team. I’ve been given licence to express myself. I have been given a lot of freedom.”
Martinez’s men are one of only three clubs to have beaten Chelsea in the league this season. Steven Naismith’s goal at Goodison Park proved the winner in September and Barkley is in bullish mood as Everton attempt what all others have failed – to beat Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the league.
“Even though they haven’t lost under Mourinho there, there’s no reason why we can’t go and win there. We’re never short of confidence when we go to any ground” Barkley said.
Chelsea have hit top gear in recent weeks, culminating in their 1-0 win at Manchester City two weeks ago, but a defeat at City in the FA Cup last weekend revealed cracks in their defence and Barkley claimed there are weaknesses his side can exploit. “We have to put pressure on their defence and our forwards must stop them playing out from the back. If you let Chelsea dominate possession then you’re in trouble. Hopefully we can get an early goal and that will put some pressure on them.
“The likes of Eden Hazard, Samuel Eto’o and Frank Lampard can all cause damage so we need to keep them quiet. They’ve got some important Champions League games coming up so perhaps we can catch them cold, but they have strong rotation options and we’re sure to be up against a tough team, whoever they put out.”
Ross Barkley was talking to rabonamag.com as part of their forthcoming feature on playmakers