7th October 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Having made a solid start to the season, which saw him score in Everton's Premier League opener against Tottenham and supply an assist against West Bromwich Albion, Ross Barkley then suffered a disappointing dip in form.

Being taken off at halftime by Ronald Koeman in the Toffees' win over Sunderland summed up his manager's frustration with his star pupil. "There was a reason to change Ross at half-time because he did not play well, he lost many balls and players of that quality can't lose those kinds of balls," Koeman moaned.

"Ross needs to be the key player between defenders and strikers. You look at his qualities and his position is to create. In all aspects he needs to improve but he is still a young player, no question."

The Dutchman then went onto criticise Barkley for his lack of contribution on the defensive end too. To his manager's delight, though, Barkley's steadily picked up his level since suffering the indignity of being removed after 45 minutes in the Sunderland fixture. Although he hasn't been at his absolute best, Barkley's promising showing in Everton's 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace indicated he's well and truly back on the right path.

It was clear from the off the 22-year-old was keen to show his demanding coach that he'd taken his words on board, in a match where he exuded enthusiasm, commitment and showcased his creative qualities.

Deployed in his preferred attacking midfield role, Barkley's admirable work rate, especially on the defensive end, would've impressed his manager to no end. He tracked back tenaciously, applied pressure to his opponents when necessary and supported his teammates when they needed help.

Importantly, however, he didn't let himself down on the attacking side of the game either, as he persistently created and found openings for himself and his colleagues to exploit. By constantly dropping deep into midfield, Barkley gave Everton some vital control in midfield; acting as a key component in their ability to retain possession and orchestrate so many of his team's most dangerous forward excursions.

While it's become commonplace for Barkley to receive criticism for his, at times, lacklustre decision making, his effectiveness in this regard vs the Eagles went some way to silencing his critics. His execution was outstanding throughout, in a match where he used his ingenuity and vision to manufacture a whopping seven chances (the most he's ever created in the EPL). In addition, completing 87.2% of his passes, a very good number considering the advanced, heavily populated position he operates in, in combination with his three won aerial duels and two successful dribbles, gave a glowing depiction of his menacing impact on the contest.

Coalescing so splendidly with towering forward, Romelu Lukaku, served as another crucial positive to be drawn from the match. Displaying their strong understanding, that they've honed over the past few seasons working together, whenever Everton advanced the ball into the final third, the two would position themselves within close proximity to one another. This allowed them to link up neatly by using their slick combination play and well synchronised off the ball movement to manipulate the Palace backline to find openings.

Observing these two exceptional talents dovetail so dangerously is certainly a formidable platform for the club to build their attack around for many more years to come. "I've said in the past that their partnership could be like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard," noted former Arsenal defender, Martin Keown.

"Those two certainly have the potential and the ability to create a special partnership."

With such an accomplished outing under his belt, Barkley, who was once again omitted from the England squad, just needs to find that all-important consistency to really elevate him from potential star into the polished article. At 22, time is definitely on the Everton youth product's side, but having been around the Everton first team for over five years now, he'll know he needs to become a key driving force with both club and country, sooner rather than later.

Working under the tough yet expert stewardship of Koeman should give him the perfect platform, mentally, physically and technically, to ensure he gets the best out of himself. Hopefully from now on those dispiriting lulls in form will now be a thing of the past for the wildly gifted Barkley.

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