Football Features

An old-school English maverick fires Chelsea past Leicester in England’s old-school cup competition

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:06, 28 June 2020 | Updated: 9:57, 30 March 2021

In an end-to-end afternoon of football, Chelsea beat Leicester at the King Power Stadium.

The win put the Blues into the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley and left Leicester frustrated as all their good football was marred by awful finishing. Chelsea meanwhile put a poor first-half behind them thanks to half-time super-sub Ross Barkley.

Barkley emerged six years ago as a young hotshot at Everton. His physical size and speed meant that people have been tipping him for greatness from basically the beginning. But for one reason or another, it has just never really “happened” for the Englishman.

He’s remained a frustrating talent, a player capable of brilliance but unreliable in terms of consistency. His move to Chelsea made a little sense and he’s only performed for them in small bursts, again never really showing the kind of reliability you’d want.

But that’s just it, Barkley’s failure is largely a product of expectations placed upon him. From the start he’s always played the game with a kind of maverick swagger and imagination that perhaps isn’t befitting of the demands that modern football places on its elite.

Barkley looks like a player from a bygone era, a player from an era where you could walk through large portions of matches before turning it on when it really counted. Where your every move wasn’t recorded so you could get away with more poor plays than usual.

In the modern game, Barkley suits one thing above all else: a cup run. Where you come in for these one-off games, these intense clashes where it’s do-or-die and there’s no need to self-motivate for another three points, where losing carries with it a tangible loss in elimination from a competition, rather than just a set-back of no points gained.

Barkley came onto the pitch at the King Power at half-time with Chelsea having been horrendous in the first-half. Thanks to Leicester’s profligacy the score was just 0-0 and Frank Lampard knew he needed to change things.

Instantly Barkley (and fellow half-time sub Mateo Kovacic) seized control of the game’s tempo. The ball was moving slicker through midfield and then Barkley added a real drive in the final third, powering through spaces and causing problems for Leicester’s defence.

Barkley then opened the scoring with a fabulous goal, arriving late onto a Willian cross and guiding it calmly into the back of the net with a delicious sweeping finish. It was the spark of magic the game needed and reminiscent of the kind of goal that Chelsea boss Frank Lampard used to score as a player. Barkley admitted that they work on that in training and you can tell. A lovely goal.

After that he continued to be a menace racing forward on the break, driving through open spaces with the ball at his feet looking confident on the ball. Though as if wanting to make a point about his own inconsistency he failed to further impact the scoresheet, including blowing a wonderful counterattack in the game’s dying minutes with a poor pass to Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

But Barkley was still the match-winner, as he had been in the previous round when Chelsea beat Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. There he forced Fabinho into the error that allowed Willian to open the scoring before doubling Chelsea’s lead with a lovely run and shot from outside the box. He also picked up an assist in the fourth round win over Hull and scored the second in the third round against Nottingham Forest. That’s three goals and one assist in four cup games.

The Blues have a big enough squad that they don’t need to rely on Barkley for consistent displays in the Premier League and they are able to use him more sporadically, which will allow him to play his more natural game and not worry about who everyone expects him to be and instead focus on who he actually is. Ross Barkley becoming Chelsea’s go-to cup hero is a role he is perfect for. An old-school English maverick for England’s old-school cup competition.