Part of the problem that many have had with Everton’s Ross Barkley, with regards to his status as a transfer target for Tottenham Hotspur, is that as an attacking midfielder he’d be entering into an already crowded house in north London. Barkley has normally been utilized in a central attacking role just behind the striker, a position that is currently occupied by Dele Alli and that can also be filled by Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, or even Josh Onomah.
But perhaps that’s not the role that Mauricio Pochettino sees for Barkley at Spurs. According to an article in the Times (£) by Matt Hughes, Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t want Barkley for his play at attacking mid — he wants him to be Mousa Dembele’s eventual replacement in central midfield.
Dembélé has two years left on his contract and will remain a key member of the side for that period, but the club are already planning for life without a player who turned 30 this month. Pochettino believes that Barkley could be effective in Dembélé’s role as a deeper lying midfielder responsible for controlling the rhythm of Tottenham’s game as well as in the No 10 role that he has largely filled for Everton.
There are concerns at the club about Dembélé’s longevity because he has been playing regular first-team football since the age of 19 in the most physically demanding area of the pitch.
— Matt Hughes, the Times of London
This isn’t necessarily something out of left field. In league play last season, Barkley was employed as a central midfielder seven times. It’s certainly an arrow in his quiver, even if it’s not the position where most people would say is a natural fit for him. In those seven games, he managed only one assist and no goals, though obviously those kinds of statistics don’t always tell the whole story.
Spurs certainly do need to start thinking about the future of its midfield. Dembele recently admitted that he’s been playing with pain for a while now, and that he underwent surgery on his foot after the season because he couldn’t stand it any longer. That foot situation appears to be better, but there’s little doubt that Moose is nearing the point where Spurs can begin to expect diminishing returns. Then it will be time to move him on.
However, it is curious that Pochettino would consider Barkley as a midfield heir to Dembele, especially with a nearly ready-made and home grown replacement already in the squad in Harry Winks. Barkley is no doubt talented and young enough, but as we’ve talked about ad nauseum on this site his decision making and discipline at times leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, adapting to play a new position takes time, and while it’s not a huge leap to move from CAM to CM, doing that while adapting to a new team, manager, and style of play is challenging, and Spurs need the midfield depth now. Winks, by contrast, has had an impressive preseason in Spurs’ USA friendlies, and is staking a claim to be a major league contributor next season.
As time marches on I am becoming more and more convinced that the Barkley transfer will in fact go through before the end of the window. Ronald Koeman has already confirmed that he’s 100% leaving Everton, and it’s really hard to see what teams like Chelsea and Manchester United would see in him that would make them think he could improve their midfield. Everton will eventually drop their price, Spurs will make a low-ball bid, and a compromise will be reached before the window slams shut.
If Hughes is right, Poch seems to see something in the play of Barkley that he thinks he can unlock to transform Barkley into an excellent box to box midfielder. I hope he’s right, because thus far there hasn’t been much to recommend him for that role apart from ambiguously raw talent and potential.