Having worked hard to earn a place in Thomas Tuchel's plans recently, Ross Barkley is the latest player to answer our 10 questions, revealing the moment that turned his Chelsea career around this season and how our head coach is using him to tweak our tactics in games…
Barkley has had to be patient since returning from a loan spell with Aston Villa over the summer, gradually getting to know Tuchel and earning his trust, before reintegrating himself fully into the team.
It has been a gradual process with some important steps along the way, starting with appearances from the bench before impressing in starts against Southampton in the Carabao Cup and, just before the last international break, when we hosted Burnley in the Premier League.
Importantly, though, those appearances have come at crucial moments in matches, showing that Tuchel sees a role for him in the side, with Barkley often being trusted to help change things around when the head coach wants to adjust our usual game plan.
The best examples of that came away at Newcastle United, when his second-half introduction on the right of a front three helped create the space for Reece James to provide the breakthrough by scoring a brace, and when Barkley was used in a central number 10 role behind a front two in a change of system against the Clarets.
Barkley sat down to answer our 10 questions, discussing his role in the team’s tactics as well as how he has worked his way back into contention under Tuchel.
You made your first Premier League start under Thomas Tuchel against Burnley. That must have been another nice milestone ticked off this season?
Yeah, it was. I started against Southampton in the Carabao Cup and I’ve just been gaining momentum over the last month or so, getting game time, coming on as a sub and then starting against Southampton and finding my feet. That was not the best of games, Southampton played really well, but against Burnley I was made up to get a start.
I felt like I deserved it after coming on and affecting the game and the manager came out and said that he felt like I deserved it, so it’s good to know that he sees that as well. I’m ready to keep doing what I’ve been doing in training and helping the team out and being ready whenever I get my chance.
Tuchel was congratulating you on your performance when you came off against Burnley, but you didn’t seem to be as happy with how you had played. Do you tend to be very demanding and critical of yourself?
I used to be more so when I was younger. In that game I felt like I’d played well, it was more the missed opportunity to score that played on my mind, but I didn’t dwell on it too much.
I played in that position in training leading up to the game and the manager spoke to me and said that sometimes, when we play against two blocks of four and you drop off, you need someone to link things up. I worked on that in training and he’d really liked what he’d seen.
When I came off, I was disappointed in myself because, leading up to the game, I was in similar positions and scoring. Then, when it came to the game, nothing came off in front of goal. I was happy with my overall performance, just not that I didn’t get on the score sheet, because of the hard work leading up to that first start.
The manager was happy with the way I performed, because I’d done what he asked of me, but he was a bit gutted for me that I didn’t score because of the way I trained and the way I score them normally. It’s one of those, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t, but overall I thought I played well.
You seemed to do really well at finding space between the lines against Burnley. Was that all part of the plan, with you playing in a central number 10 role?
It was part of the plan, yeah. For a player like me, the training sessions we do are great, because you’re constantly checking for the spaces and trying to receive it on the half-turn and then be direct towards goal. You’re not getting it and playing it out wide too much, it’s the directness of turning and playing to goal.
You’re trying to get into that space to turn, so I’m scanning constantly to see where the pockets are. And with the likes of Jorginho playing, he’s always going to try and thread that ball into the space, so that’s the stuff we worked on.
It’s a credit to the manager, because when you train under him, he is really intelligent in understanding a player. After the last few months, he obviously understands me as a player now. He knows what I can bring through me getting game time.
Playing in that role is great for me, to affect games. I played there when I was younger, I haven’t played there for a while, so then to play there again, it was really exciting to be back in that position with a better game understanding than when I was younger.
Before that, you had been playing in a slightly different role as part of a front three. You seemed to have a good impact there, for example when you came on at Newcastle United, but did that position take a bit of adaptation from you?
When I came on against Newcastle, it was more to play in that position out of possession, but in possession to have the freedom to try and link things up, suck defenders out to create space for others or to run into space.
The manager doesn’t really want you to be too disciplined in possession as an attacker, because he wants you to have freedom to create, freedom to take players on and freedom to be direct. That’s the message he gets across before you come on or before you start. He wants you to do what you do in training, really, and you don’t feel pressure. Through the way you train, you know what you can produce in the games.
Against Newcastle, I actually came on at 0-0 and within 16 minutes it was 3-0. So it was great for me, because the manager saw it and spoke to me about it being 0-0 when I came on and ending 3-0, having a joke with me about it.
It’s been noticeable that your playing time has been in situations like that, at important moments with the game in the balance, not just minutes to get fitness when the game is won. That must give you confidence the manager trusts you…
It’s been like that in every game I’ve come on. Against Juventus, we were getting beat 1-0 and we were unfortunate for Rom not to score with the chance I created for him. We were drawing when I came on against Southampton and won 3-1, I had an affect on that, and then there was Newcastle.
Even when I came on against Malmo, we were winning 1-0, but that was still a difficult game to come on in, in a sense that it was their first game at home with fans and they were really up for it, they were really intense.
It’s just about coming in and having a positive affect on the team. Whenever I’m asked to come on as a sub or to start the game, I just try to affect the game.
Tuchel has spoken about how important the international breaks have been in providing opportunities for players like yourself and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Did it feel the same from your point of view?
Before the first international break me and Ruben were either side, being over here in the first-team building or being with the loan group and youth players, because there were a lot of players at the club, either staying or going.
But in the first international break, we knew we were staying, so we got brought across to the first-team building and the manager could see us every day. I felt like we impressed him, to then be brought back into the squad, speaking to him daily and to then be brought on as a sub.
By the time the next international break came and you’re there every day in a smaller group, he can see what you bring and from there, there’s been more game time. After the third international break it led to starts.
I’ve just needed to keep pushing but the international breaks have been vital and now, after this month’s international break, we’ve got a long space of games. So now it’s just about staying consistent with everything off the field and everything on the training pitch.
We also saw you sharing pictures on social media of you working hard in the gym during some time off in Dubai in the last international break, so you definitely seem to be making the best use of your time…
Yeah, because I’ve not played too much this season. I’ve got a bit of game time in now, but I’ve not played much, so I don’t need to have a break. Mentally, you go away and you enjoy it, but I just needed to keep ticking over, keep pushing myself, because I wanted to continue where I left off.
Looking back at that time before the first international break, and especially during pre-season, it must have been difficult preparing for the campaign given the uncertainty over your future after coming back from a year on loan…
Yeah it was, because you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. You’ve got boots in your car because you don’t know if you’re going somewhere else or staying here.
Once I knew I was staying here, then it was more just about training with the senior squad as much as I can, because I knew that the numbers were really high. Then players started leaving and I was training every day, so it became more about enjoying training, but training at 100 per cent every day, to be as fit as possible. Then hopefully there would be chances and that’s how it’s worked out.
Was there a particular turning point when you realised there could be a role for you to play at Chelsea under Tuchel this season?
Just before the first international break I was training really well and then we had an in-house game. I scored a couple of goals and created a few and when he spoke to me afterwards I felt that he was impressed. Since then I was a major part of the group.
It was just about showing my quality and being consistent and doing my extra work, but that was the turning point, just before the days off for the first international break.
When you train under this manager he takes notice and he rewards you, which I’d heard from the lads who worked with him last season before I came back. It is great because some managers aren’t necessarily like that. If you train well he does reward you, but not in a sense that you get rewarded just for training well, you’ve got to perform when you get the chance as well.
After impressing the manager and earning that chance, has the important thing for you been to build up that rhythm of being involved in matches regularly and finding your form?
Yeah, it’s just about getting back into that momentum, but it helps that the training here is really intense, you’re constantly thinking in the sessions we do here. So because you’re thinking so much in the training sessions it comes naturally when you get into the game. The training sessions that we do really help us to go out on the pitch and show what the manager has been putting into us every day in training.
For me, it’s just important to keep learning from and training with the manager, because he’s one of the best managers in the world. Then, when I get my chances, to try and chip in with goals and assists or the passes that lead to assists.
Working with him was new to me in the summer, but from the first couple of days I could see how great the manager was. The training sessions are just suited to the player that I am and you’re constantly thinking. You feel like you’re a kid again, looking forward to getting onto the training pitch and getting on the ball every day.