In Focus: Barkley out to impress as Chelsea future hangs in the balance
Ross Barkley was once destined for big things — but his career has stalled at Stamford Bridge.
The midfielder moved to Chelsea for £15million in January 2018 with high hopes of fulfilling his undeniable potential in West London.
However, the former Everton star has struggled to make an impact under various managers — even spending a season on loan at Aston Villa in 2020-21 — and could be set to leave the club this summer.
As the Blues prepare for their pre-season fixtures in the United States over the coming days, we consider what the future holds for their No18.
The state of play
Barkley only played six times in the Premier League last season, starting just once.
But the Liverpool native did manage to score one goal in 176 minutes of action — netting a stoppage-time winner in the last game of the season against Watford.
That could represent his final act in a Chelsea shirt though, with Blues manager Thomas Tuchel showing little faith in the England international's ability.
Speaking early last season, he said: "Normally you expect — and this is not a secret — somebody to go on loan from Chelsea to Aston Villa that he is the main guy at Aston Villa and then he comes back and takes the next steps.
"This has not happened, so maybe there is a long way to go, but you never know. He has the ability, so let's see.
"It's never too late and I will give him the support that I can. We need to wait and have patience."
Chelsea are yet to sign any midfielders in the current transfer window — but they do have Conor Gallagher returning from an impressive loan spell at Crystal Palace last term.
Prodigious youngster Billy Gilmour is also back at Stamford Bridge after a less successful year at Norwich, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek emerged as an increasingly reliable option for the Blues in 2021-22.
And with Mason Mount and Kai Havertz among the club's top stars, it is increasingly hard to see where attacking midfielder Barkley can break into the starting line-up.
Reasons for optimism
Despite the odds of a Stamford Bridge renaissance being slim, there are some potential positives for Barkley.
Havertz seems to be evolving from an attacking midfielder into a centre forward, which would free up a possible slot behind the frontman in Tuchel's favoured 3-4-2-1 formation.
Meanwhile, Hakim Ziyech is reportedly on the verge of leaving West London, with a loan move to AC Milan potentially on the cards.
Chelsea are spending big on Raheem Sterling and strengthening at centre-back, so their squad players may be needed to fill those gaps.
Barkley may have a number of suitors in the coming weeks.
One option could be Everton — the club where he made his name. The Toffees only narrowly avoided relegation last season and will want to bolster their attacking options, having lost Richarlison to Tottenham.
Manager Frank Lampard should be fully aware of Barkley's talents from his time in charge of the Blues.
There have also been reports that the 33-cap international could be offered to West Ham as part of a bid to sign Irons midfielder Declan Rice.
Though Barkley has been included in Chelsea's squad for the US tour, there is no doubt that the club would be willing to let him depart for a reasonable offer.
The question is whether any team will be willing to part with a significant fee to sign a player who has not hit top form for so many years.
After all, it was way back in 2016-17 that Barkley last registered 10 goal contributions or more in the Premier League, when he was still playing for Everton.
But if the one-time prodigy can recapture his form of yesteryear, he could represent a surprise bargain this summer.