Ross Barkley: A Different Type of ‘Number Ten’

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Team Line-up/ Shape

Everton started with a midfield triangle with Fellaini (left) and Osman (right) at the base with Ross Barkley – the game’s stand out performer – at the point. More on him in a bit.  Personell wise, everything else was pretty much  ‘as you were’ last season although Mirallas was occupying a more advanced role a tad more central, often pretty much as a striker. If you take a look at the below average position graphic between the March game (left) and Saturday’s game (right) against the same opposition you can see some of these subtle changes.

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Key Game Data Comparison

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Key Conclusions from the table;

  • Roughly 10% more passes attempted
  • More chances created and shots registered
  • Reduced possession for opponent leading to fewer chances conceded
  • Slightly quicker tempo with fewer touches per pass
  • Pressure wise, fairly unchanged in terms of how often we regain possession and where we do it
  • Much better at winning the second balls
  • Possession (65%) and Pass Completion (88%) figures were higher than any figure achieved in any game last season (best last season; 61% share & 87% completion)

Passing Grid

Names on top are the passer, names down the side are receiver e.g Osman passed to Coleman 12 times, Coleman passed to Osman 8 times. The bigger the type the higher the frequency.

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In terms of the actual passing combinations, the grid shows us that there were hardly any long passes from Howard or Jagielka into the forward players, hinting at a shorter game. The most frequent passing combination was Fellaini to Baines (21) with the duo combining 40 times in total. This is in keeping with the usual dynamic of us servicing the wing backs from central midfield.

Barkley : A Different ‘Number ten’

One of the most refreshing things about the game was the eye catching display of Ross Barkley. A glance at the comparison table further up the post shows there wasn’t much change in the general approach to that of the previous regime. The one big difference is the role of the advanced midfielder Barkley.

Last season, Fellaini was predominantly used in this position and with his physical prowess particularly in chesting the ball, he was a useful asset in getting on the end of longer passes and then linking play with the wide forwards. Barkley is a different customer altogether.

RB’s ability to bulldoze through defences or shooting from long range, and threading passes to forwards are attributes Fellaini doesn’t have in his locker and these qualities could be invaluable this season. Being played further up field also mitigates the risk of him being dispossessed in dangerous areas when he is playing as expressively as he was at the weekend. Not that it happened often, however.

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The above visual shows the clear difference in the balls the duo received in the two games, with shorter passes played centrally into Barkley compared to more frequent, predominantly longer passes pitched up to Fellaini predominantly in wider areas of the pitch. Whereas Fellaini was often the target of longer punts rom defenders, Barkley receives predominantly from short passes from Fellaini and Osman in the midfield triangle.

Fellaini also seemed fairly comfortable in the deeper role on Saturday, taking the most touches (106) of any player on the pitch and making the second most passes (88) of any player in the top flight this weekend.  His role further back also helped us win more second balls, with this figure shooting up from last season’s game of 53% to 100% at the weekend.


Barkley’s distribution was particularly eye catching; of any player who made 50+ passes at the weekend, the Wavertree schemer had the best accuracy (96.2%) and was equally ace in the final third where he tallied 95% accuracy from his 24 passes in this zone.

More importantly, whereas Fellaini was very much a back to goal ‘number ten’ Barkley prefers facing the opposition goal. This is particularly good news for Jelavic as Barkley found him with a pass double the amount of times as Fellaini did in the equivalent match last season.

Everton's Seamus Coleman celebrates his goal against Norwich City in the Premier League


Facing the opposition goal was evident in Barkley’s long range equaliser, cancelling out Norwich’s opener from Steven Whittaker’s twice hit effort after the Scot somehow evaded Baines, Pienaar and Fellaini. With Norwich’s rearguard – marshalled by the comically bad Michael Turner – creaking more and more a lovely passing move led to Seamus Coleman putting the Blues in front shortly after. The Irishman ‘s computer can sometimes short circuit and not convey the message from brain to boot, but as players go his improvement in the last 12 months has been immense. No defender in the top flight has created more goals since the turn of the year and after teeing up Barkley’s opener the Irishman was again in the thick of the opposition box to slam home after Ruddy parried Jelavic’s shot after a sumptuous through pass from Pienaar.

In Conclusion

This was a really exciting game that we should have won on the balance of play. In many ways there wasn’t a great deal of change for the Blues in approach barring some minor tweaks and it was similar to a lot of our games last season in that we had bags of possession, created lots of chances,  and conceded goals against the run of play.  Early days then, but the signs are very positive heading into next week’s game against West Brom.



2 thoughts on “Ross Barkley: A Different Type of ‘Number Ten’

  1. Superb, insightful analysis, which shows how important Baines and Fellaini are going to be for us. Stay away, Moyes!

    PS What a performance from Barkley.

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