There is never a good time to be punched in the face, but for Ross Barkley, this one may have come at the worst time possible.
Of course, it is not as if he specifically picked the early hours of Monday morning to be caught flush. Judging by the footage, once his unidentified assailant had settled on a right down the pipe, Barkley did not have much say in the matter.
Indeed, this was an unprovoked attack. Yet after a weeks of unfair criticism for his on-pitch performances, Barkley did not need this incident right now, and it is likely to lead to more questions from his army of sceptics and detractors.
After all, there seems to be little sympathy for Barkley out there at the moment, least of all in his own manager’s office.
This incident, captured in the popular Slater Street cocktail bar Santa Chupitos, came just hours after Ronald Koeman effectively issued an ultimatum to the 23-year-old, who has just over a year left to run on his contract at Goodison Park.
“We offer him a new contract, and there are two possibilities,” the Dutchman said after Sunday’s exhilarating 4-2 win over Leicester City. “One, he signs that contract. If he doesn't sign that contract then we need to sell the player. It's simple, it's not so difficult in my opinion.”
Liverpool 3 Everton 1 player ratings
Liverpool 3 Everton 1 player ratings
1/22 Simon Mignolet – 6 out of 10
Made a handful of important saves – only beaten by Pennington’s close range strike.
2/22 Nathaniel Clyne – 5 out of 10
Was pulled out of position at times and made a habit of playing very narrow.
3/22 Joel Matip – 6 out of 10
His work rate was relentless and he kept Lukaku out of the game.
4/22 Dejan Lovren – 7 out of 10
Committed to every challenge and loose ball – courageous defending throughout.
5/22 James Milner – 6 out of 10
It was a classic Milner display – passed well, held his shape and worked hard.
6/22 Emre Can – 4 out of 10
Ruthlessly crashed into challenges, tackled half-heartedly and lost possession continuously.
7/22 Lucas – 6 out of 10
Read the game very well – dropped deep and opened up space in the midfield.
8/22 Georgino Wijnaldum – 5 out of 10
Drifted in and out of the game at times, but in possession he showed impressive vision and ability.
9/22 Sadio Mane – 7 out of 10
His opening goal was an example of his endless individual ability. Subbed off due to ankle injury.
10/22 Roberto Firmino – 6 out of 10
Worked hard to win possession, but his final product was sloppy at times.
11/22 Philippe Coutinho – 8 out of 10
Was Liverpool’s best player today – he was energetic, determined and his goal capped off a sublime performance.
12/22 Joel Robles – 4 out of 10
Was a victim of Liverpool’s sublime strike force but seemed out of position for all three of the home side's goals.
13/22 Matthew Pennington – 6 out of 10
Unexpectedly scored the equaliser, but then he was beaten by Coutinho for Liverpool’s second.
14/22 Ashley Williams – 6 out of 10
Tackled relentlessly and made countless clearances. However, some of his tackles looked dangerous.
15/22 Phil Jagielka – 7 out of 10
He cleared shots off the line, leaped in front of shots and saved the Everton side on numerous occasions.
16/22 Mason Holgate – 5 out of 10
Showed glimpses of brilliance going forward, but his countless deliveries into the box were over hit and out of control.
17/22 Tom Davies – 6 out of 10
Oozed with confidence and once again proved his prospects for the future. Still has plenty to learn, though.
18/22 Idrissa Gueye – 6 out of 10
Was a key element to Everton going forward, but he did drift out of position at times.
19/22 Leighton Baines – 5 out of 10
Played very deep, which resulted in a lack of width and menace for The Toffees on the front foot.
20/22 Ross Barkley – 6 out of 10
Should have been red carded just before the interval, but his performance improved sufficiently as the game progressed.
21/22 Romelu Lukaku – 4 out of 10
Showed no sign of being the Premier League’s scorer and caused few problems for the Liverpool defence.
22/22 Dominic Calvert-Lewin – 5 out of 10
Lacked service from the midfield, but the striker was invisible at times.
Those who have watched him regularly this season recognise that he has gradually started to make good on the promise of his early years. He remains an erratic player, full of errors and poor decisions, and he continues to wilt against top sides, a tendency that cannot be ignored.
Yet since the turn of the year, Barkley has quietly impressed. His performances have been a touch more mature, his attempts to master his wealth of natural talent that little more effective.
Comparisons with Dele Alli, a player two years younger and with far fewer senior appearances under his belt, remain unfavourable. But if Koeman is attempting to change Barkley for the better, he appears to be gradually succeeding.
Barkley’s misfortune is that a typically muted performance in the Merseyside derby, the highest-profile match he has played this calendar year, confirmed general perceptions of him as a player.
His uninspiring display at Anfield, only notable for a challenge on Dejan Lovren that should have resulted in a red card, also came after a quiet international break in which his continued omission from England line-ups became a story.
That derby performance, broadcast live on television, has essentially wiped out three months of good displays unseen by eyes and unconsidered by the minds of many, and a player’s reputation often counts for a lot, particularly when it comes to international selection.
Now, with this bar incident coming so quickly after Koeman’s unflinching post-match remarks, Barkley may unfortunately fall further under the microscope. It is not too far a step to assert that his future could well be in the balance.
As one man who knew a thing or two about the subject once remarked: “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The danger for Barkley is that whatever intentions he had, whether he wished to stay Everton or move elsewhere, his future now falls out of his hands.
It would be a shame if, less than a day after Barkley was asked to make his mind up, a belligerent stranger supping on a Black Russian had made the youngster's decision for him.Reuse content