Our number eight discusses his lockdown experience, the prospect of playing football without fans and what Chelsea need to do to achieve our targets this season…

Ross Barkley is desperate to pick up where he and his Chelsea team-mates left off before the unprecedented break in the football calendar.

On Sunday afternoon in the Midlands, the Blues will resume their Premier League campaign 105 days on from our most recent outing, a 4-0 victory over Barkley’s former club Everton in early March that many regarded as one of our finest performances of the season to date.

Barkley himself was enjoying perhaps the best run of form and fitness in his Chelsea career, recording back-to-back 90 minutes for only the second time as a Blue and having netted an incredible solo goal against Liverpool that secured our passage to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

In a sporting context, the nationwide lockdown came at the most inconvenient moment for the 26-year-old, though he has no desire to dwell over what might have been and instead insists the aim is on resuming with renewed determination and belief.

‘It was frustrating because I was in good form,’ he says of the season being suspended, in an exclusive interview with the official Chelsea website.

‘I was getting a decent run in the side and things were going well, for the team as well because we were getting the results that we needed and we were kicking on.

‘Since we’ve been back in training it seems we’re back to where we were before. We’re all looking forward to our first game on Sunday and hopefully we can continue where we left off.’

Click here for some analysis on Barkley's season so far

Like many of the players in the squad, Barkley spent much of the lockdown back home following the 14-day self-isolation period that followed Callum Hudson-Odoi’s positive test result for COVID-19.

He appreciated being able to spend time close to his family, while also keeping fit and active during the prescribed daily exercise allowed by UK Government guidelines. On returning to team training at Cobham in May, the midfielder felt fresh and puts that down to his position-specific lockdown work.

‘It was strange but since I moved to Chelsea I’ve never really been able to spend much time back home so to be able to do that and be with my family was actually good,’ discloses Barkley.

‘In London, I would have been on my own for the whole period and I wouldn’t have been able to do much fitness work where I live so it made sense for me to go home and stay on top of my fitness there.

‘I was doing training related to the way I play in games so it was a lot of strength work, fitness, plenty of ball work. When we came back, I felt good and fit. I’m made up that we’re back now and returning to a bit of normality.’

An enthusiastic football fan and viewer, Barkley has missed being able to watch games on the television just like the rest of us and has instead been using the time to review clips of his own game provided by the club’s analysis department.

However, after 15 frenetic years on the football frontline with little time afforded to rest and reset in between seasons, he has also taken the opportunity to give himself a psychological break from a sport that can often be all-consuming and overwhelming.

‘It’s been a weird period because there’s always usually games on the TV so not being able to watch any sport at all was a killer really,’ he admits. ‘Now that football is back, it’s a great feeling inside because it’s what we love to do.

‘I’ve been reflecting on things every couple of days and watching clips back, finding little details to improve on, what I was doing well and what the team was doing well. Obviously it’s going to be difficult because it’s been such a long period and you don’t even get this long away from football even in the summer but it’s also been good to switch off a bit in a way.’

The prospect of behind-closed-doors games without supporters in stadiums is a strange one for the players to prepare for, though Barkley has some experience of football without fans. In October 2018, England played a Nations League international against Croatia in Rijeka in a deserted stadium following a UEFA disciplinary body decision against the Croatian Football Federation.

Barkley started in midfield up against his club team-mate Mateo Kovacic in a game that ended 0-0 and our number eight believes the conditions will require some adaptation.

‘For me, I didn’t like it,’ he recalls. ‘Obviously I enjoyed playing the game because it was England and it was such a big fixture but with no fans and no atmosphere, it was strange. You play the game because of the fans. You have them behind them you and they can give you a boost in games.

‘We’ll have to think back to when we were younger playing in the reserves or Under-23s. Sometimes at that level you play games at the training ground where there are only a couple of parents watching so it’s going to be pretty similar to that. We just have to focus on getting the job done in every game that comes.’

With nine Premier League games remaining, there are still conceivably a handful of teams in the battle for Champions League qualification. Chelsea are three points clear of Manchester United in fifth and five behind Leicester City in third, with the Blues having sat in the top four since October.

With games against Manchester City (second), Sheffield United (sixth) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (seventh) to come, Barkley is well aware that focus and fight are required, starting with Sunday teatime’s trip to relegation-threatened Villa.

‘It’s very tight because everyone is fighting to get into the top four,’ he adds. ‘We’re in there right now but we know that we have to put in performances and win games because we’ve got teams chasing us.

'When every game comes, we’ve got to be fighting for the three points. It’s a big challenge. We have loads of games coming thick and fast but we know what we need to do.’

-Our build-up begins with all the key stats ahead of Aston Villa vs Chelsea