From being called out by his former occasions last season over the player’s failure to take his chances when called upon, however this season the story has changed under new coach Maurizio Sarri.
The potential of Ross Barkley is perhaps finally beginning to be transformed into something more substantive has in 391 minutes that he has played this season he already has three goals and three assists. And it is this that is likely to make him key to Chelsea mounting a sustained title challenge.
Barkley is so valuable to the team though he has never been exactly prolific over his career – just 28 league goals to date – but Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Kanté have only 38 over their careers between them.
That Barkley has scored in each of his last three games for Chelsea is not a coincidence. But nor is it a coincidence that Sarri has not started Barkley against either Liverpool or United.
The other metric in which there has been a significant improvement is in the distance run. Even to the naked eye, Barkley looks sleeker than in the past, and the stats show he is running on average 1.5km per 90 minutes further than in his Everton days.
Sarri has been working individually with Barkley to improve his tactical understanding and clearly feels progress has been made.
A capacity to fit the system is essential, of course, but it is the goals he brings and his capacity to ease the burden on Hazard that makes Barkley vital to Chelsea.