Maurizio Sarri said Ross Barkley is on course to become a “great player” for Chelsea and England after he had a goal and an assist in the 3-0 win over Southampton.
Barkley was handed only his third Premier League start of the season in place of Mateo Kovacic at the end of a week that saw him recalled to the England squad by Gareth Southgate, and he rewarded Sarri’s faith with an outstanding individual display at St Mary’s.
Chelsea’s breakthrough in the 30th minute came courtesy of Barkley, who dispossessed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg high up the pitch and played in Eden Hazard for his seventh Premier League goal of the season.
Barkley then netted his first Chelsea goal to double their advantage just before the hour mark, tapping in Olivier Giroud’s acrobatic volley from a clever free kick, and substitute Alvaro Morata added another layer of gloss to proceedings by dinking a third over Alex McCarthy in the final seconds after a 31-pass move.
“[Barkley] played very well. I am really happy with him,” Sarri said. “From the beginning he has improved day by day, week by week and match by match, so I am very happy with him and for him, for the goal, for the national team.
“I think he had a very serious injury in the previous season, but I think he is improving. … I said to him from the first day that he has great quality — physical and technical quality. But you have to improve from the tactical point of view, but now he has improved [tactically].”
Asked how good Barkley can become, Sarri replied: “I don’t know, but potentially, he is a great player. He has quality, very important qualities in the physical and [technical] point of view. Now he is improving in the tactical point of view. He will become a very important player in England and for the national team.”
At the other end of Chelsea’s midfield pecking order is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was substituted after 66 minutes in the Europa League victory against Vidi on Thursday and omitted from Sarri’s match-day squad entirely against Southampton, further fuelling speculation that he will leave the club on loan or permanently in January.
“After 70 minutes in the last match for the first time in the season, I preferred for him to have training,” said Sarri, who added that the midfielder is not injured.