This might not have been the most harmonious weeks in west London but Ross Barkley certainly has no intention of hiding when he arrives at Wembley on Sunday. A fortnight ago, it was the England midfielder’s careless header back into his own penalty area that gifted Sergio Agüero the second goal in Manchester City’s 6-0 demolition of Chelsea, with Pep Guardiola’s side now hot favourites to retain the Carabao Cup after that scintillating performance at the Etihad Stadium.
Yet while major doubts remain over Maurizio Sarri’s future as manager after Manchester United gained revenge for defeat in last year’s FA Cup final with their victory at Stamford Bridge in the fifth round, Barkley is not so sure of the assessment that Chelsea are in for another humbling afternoon at the hands of Guardiola’s side.
“I don’t think in our minds we should be thinking anything about embarrassment,” says the 25‑year‑old, who scored his fifth goal of the season with a free-kick in Thursday’s win over Malmö in the Europa League.
“We should be thinking about winning a trophy. Thinking about the good things, rather than thinking about what could happen. We’ve got to think about achieving success. In my mind I always think positive. If things aren’t coming off well … bad days don’t always stay. Good times are ahead.”
Barkley adds: “When I was at Everton, I went through a lot of up and down spells, lacking in confidence. Over the last couple of years I’ve improved on that. And understanding that if you make a mistake, everybody makes a mistake. You focus on what’s ahead, instead of focusing on what’s happened or the previous game.”
That positivity has been severely tested since the defeat against City as Sarri’s style of play has come under scrutiny from disaffected supporters, culminating in anti-Sarriball chants in the defeat against United. Even though he only arrived from Everton in January 2018, Barkley has already seen one manager depart in the form of Antonio Conte and admits that playing under pressure is just part of the furniture at Stamford Bridge.
“Over the years – me, not being here – you see managers come, managers go,” he says. “It’s all about success at the club, winning trophies. That’s why I came to the club and all of the players come to the club. If things aren’t going well there’s always going to be pressure that comes with it. The reason why I came is to win trophies and help the club continue with the success.
“We’ve got ambition to be one of the best footballing sides in the world. We’re one of the biggest clubs in the world. The style of play the manager wants to play it’s not where it’s at right now. Over time it will come. It’s just more from the inconsistent side of things. We can perform really well and then dip off and not get the greatest of results, against teams we should be beating. We’re still learning and we’ve got a lot to improve on.”
Having rarely featured under his predecessor as he settled in following the £15m move from Goodison Park, for most of the season Sarri has rotated between Barkley and the Real Madrid loanee Mateo Kovacic to play on the left of midfield in Chelsea’s rigid 4-3-3 formation. Both started against Malmö, with the Croat taking the central role normally reserved for Jorginho until the Italy international was brought on as a substitute to a chorus of boos. If selected, Barkley will make his first appearance in a final for Chelsea, having been left on the bench for the victory over United in Conte’s last act as manager in May.
“I got the feeling of a winning atmosphere and a winning squad, seeing before the game the way the lads prepared in training. And the feeling after the game, how good that is, gave me the hunger to want to achieve success here,” he says. “Last season I didn’t really play much of a part in winning the trophy, so I see Sunday as the chance to win my first trophy at the club.”
Sarri’s blistering start to his career in English football saw his new side keep pace with Liverpool and City at the top of the Premier League until things began to unravel after the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham at the end of November.
Nonetheless, having featured as a substitute in the 2-0 win over City at Stamford Bridge a few weeks later, Barkley believes that – despite their recent stumbles – Chelsea remain a work in progress and are capable of beating anyone on their day.
“With each individual, everybody takes instructions in a different way,” he says. “We’re all top-class players and we all want to learn more. With the manager we’re learning on a day-to-day basis. If you compare Pep Guardiola’s first season, they went through a bit of an up-and-down spell.
“When I was at Everton, we beat Manchester City 4-0. The Premier League’s the most competitive in the world. There are teams all over the table … You can have an off-day one day, a good game the other. It’s more repetition in training and results will come through. We’re doing it every day in training. I’m sure, with time, you’ll see how good it will be.”