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25th Jan 2018

Antonio Conte did not spare Ross Barkley’s feelings after his Chelsea debut

It was his first game in eight months, but the reaction hasn't been kind

Robert Redmond

Chelsea got off to a great start against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday night.

Eden Hazard gave them the lead after just seven minutes, and despite Arsenal scoring an equaliser five minutes later, Chelsea were in complete control for most of the first-half. However, two moments swung the game in the home side’s favour. At half-time, Arsene Wenger switched from a 4-3-3 formation to three at the back, which helped Arsenal gain control of the match. From Chelsea’s perspective, an injury to Willian after 30 minutes proved very costly.

Unfortunately for Antonio Conte’s side, Willian’s departure robbed them of one of their main attacking threats, and his replacement would have little impact in the match.

Ross Barkley came on for his Chelsea debut, after signing from Everton for £15m earlier this month, and it’s fair to say he’ll have better games for the club. Hopefully, anyway.

It was Barkley’s first match since last May, so one has to take that into account when assessing his performance. He has also only trained with Chelsea for a few weeks, and had only played in a reserve match after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury.

But Barkley looked lost at times, and didn’t seem to be on the same wave-length as his new teammates. Hazard, in particular, appeared frustrated with the England midfielder when he failed to find him with a pass.

His difficult night was summed-up in the final minute. Chelsea needed a goal to take the tie to extra-time and had a corner. Every Chelsea player, even goalkeeper Willy Caballero, made their way into Arsenal’s penalty area, and Barkley went to take the corner. With 5,000 Chelsea supporters behind the goal, Barkley had the chance to set-up a dramatic goal and give his side the advantage in the tie.

He hit an Arsenal player at the near-post, and Wenger’s side advanced to the Wembley final against Manchester City next month.

Conte admitted following the 2-1 loss that the 24-year-old wasn’t ready to play.

“When there is an injury to one of your best players it is not simple, especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley,” the Chelsea manager told reporters.

“Barkley has a lot of space for improvement, he is working with us only two weeks but for sure today I was forced to make this substitution, but he can improve a lot.”

While we should probably give Barkley the benefit of the doubt, because it was his first match in eight months, there’s no doubt that he’ll need to up his game to stay in the Chelsea team.

The reaction to his performance hasn’t been kind.

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