The future of Ross Barkley is still in question after Dean Smith dropped him for Aston Villa’s most recent game, but the manager has now explained why.
Barkley is spending the campaign on loan at Villa Park from Chelsea, where he had fallen down the pecking order in recent years.
The move initially seemed to be paying off for the 27-year-old, who scored on his Villa debut. His positive start led some to claim he may be able to work his way back into England contention in time for Euro 2020.
Barkley’s form has dropped slightly since, though. Smith left him on the bench for Villa’s win over Leeds on Saturday, instead deploying 19-year-old Jacob Ramsey in his position.
With his future now in doubt, Barkley’s absence has been explained by Smith – who suggests the midfielder could return against Sheffield United on Wednesday.
“We decided to change it at Leeds knowing the way Leeds played,” Smith said.
“I didn’t think Ross and Douglas [Luiz, who was also dropped] had probably played to their standards in the previous game against Leicester and I thought it was time to have a little change.
“But Ross is fit and available and in contention to start against Sheffield United.
Sheffield Utd v Aston Villa Match Preview, March 03, 2021
A look ahead to the Premier League game between Sheffield Utd and Aston Villa, including stats on form, possession, shots, cards, corners, top scorers and previous meetings.
“We had a period of games where we had no training and he was playing.
“I said all along unfortunately he was having to get his fitness up during games. But he is getting the training minutes he needs now.
“He is up to speed.
“I explained it to both Ross and Douglas and while players are never happy coming out of a team, they understood my reasons because they were the conversations I had.
“In terms of what I’ve found of his character, he’s as professional as I’ve come across with his work on the training ground and in the gym.
“He’s probably one of the last to leave each day when he’s here and he’s got a drive to get better all of the time, which is really pleasing.”
Despite Smith’s words of praise, a report from Football Insider has cast doubt on whether Villa will sign Barkley on a permanent basis.
The website claims that parent club Chelsea want £35m for Barkley if they are to sell him. At the moment, that price seems too steep.
It would be a club-record investment for Villa, who reportedly still have doubts about how well Barkley fits into their system. There are fears he may just be a luxury player after all – despite Smith’s appraisal of his work rate.
Villa have not completely ruled out a permanent deal for Barkley, though. His performances before the end of the season will be crucial to their decision.
Ideal replacement for Barkley named
Meanwhile, another midfielder who has been linked with Villa is a player they will come up against on Wednesday – Sheffield United’s Sander Berge.
The Norway international has impressed since moving to Bramall Lane and it seems he will not stay there in the likely event that they suffer relegation to the Championship.
Villa are reportedly the favourites to sign Berge, and former striker Emile Heskey believes he would be an interesting option.
“I’ve seen a little bit of Sander Berge and he looks very technical,” Heskey told HITC. “He drives with the ball as well.
“I couldn’t work out whether he’s a sitting midfielder, an eight or a ten. But he gets into certain areas and creates havoc.
“He’s very, very good at picking passes. I could see him fitting at Villa.
“Where he would fit (in the starting XI); I’m not sure. It will be interesting to see. He’s not old so he’d definitely be a good addition.
“Do they take Ross Barkley? Do they send him back and then take Berge? Yeah, I think it’s a good option.”
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