Ahead of today's game against Newcastle, Ross Barkley speaks about his personal development under Maurizio Sarri as well as the type of contest he expects against Rafa Benitez's side.
The Blues return to Premier League action against Newcastle later today and Ross Barkley, aiming for a fifth consecutive start, says he is benefiting from the faith being shown in him by Maurizio Sarri.
After two consecutive cup matches, the aim this time around will be to secure the three points which will help maintain our push to finish in the top four and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Barkley has started the last four matches and he highlighted the strides he has made under the guidance of Sarri so far this season.
‘I feel like in a short space of time I’ve developed really well,’ he said. ‘I feel as though I can still improve a lot. We’re still getting used to our style of play and it’s about repetition on a daily basis on the training pitch and transforming that into the games. It’s going well at the minute.
‘He believes in the team, he sees that we have a lot of potential to be one of the best teams in the world and be back in the Champions League and challenging for the major trophies. He has a lot of belief in me, a lot of belief in the rest of the team and that’s good to see. It’s always great to have the manager’s backing, we’re working hard on the training pitch and on matchdays.’
Today’s fixture will evoke positive memories for Barkley, who made his home debut for the Blues as a second-half substitute in an FA Cup tie against Newcastle just under a year ago.
With Newcastle taking more points on their travels than at St James’ Park this season, the midfielder expects a tough test.
‘At first things started really slowly for me,’ he recalled. ‘In the second half of the season I joined with a long-term injury that I was recovering from and it was more about me building on that, staying fit, strong and being ready for this season from the start. But it was a great day to make my debut last season against Newcastle in the FA Cup.
‘Every time I’ve come up against a Newcastle side under Rafa Benitez they’ve been well organised and hard to break down so they can make it really difficult, as they did for us earlier in the season, but we’re going to be really focused on winning the game and we’ll have a plan.
‘It’s important we have our fans backing behind us, it’s important for us to perform and we’re looking forward to it.’
Callum Hudson-Odoi, our 18-year-old attacker, has impressed having started both of our last two matches, first laying on both goals for Alvaro Morata in the FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest, before performing well, and striking the post, against Tottenham in midweek.
As a player who made his Premier League debut at the age of 17, Barkley is well placed to provide his thoughts on Hudson-Odoi’s qualities.
‘From a young age I’ve always been dedicated and worked hard,’ he said. ‘You have to stick at it and sometimes you have to sacrifice things, for example what your friends are doing. Just love the game and the rewards will come.
‘I started at a similar age to Callum. I’ve seen how talented he is through training and you can see what he’s capable of.
‘He’s a very mature lad for his age, he knows what direction he’s going in and he’s improving all the time. He has a great future at the club, he’s up there with the best talents I’ve seen in the time I’ve been a professional and hopefully he stays at the club for many years.’
Despite a narrow defeat to Tottenham in the first leg of our Carabao Cup semi-final, the Blues remain more than capable of overturning the deficit when the teams meet at Stamford Bridge on Thursday 24 January, a fixture Barkley is already thinking about.
‘We’ve still got another game to go at our home ground and we played really positively against Tottenham,’ Barkley explained.
‘I thought we deserved more than to come away with a 1-0 defeat but we have a lot of positives to take from the game and we’re looking forward to the next leg.
‘It was intense. I’ve seen previous derbies in the past and how competitive they are, and I felt that the other night, but I’m looking forward to the home fixture against them.’