- Ross Barkley starred as Luton held Newcastle to a draw on Saturday
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Newcastle would have won this game with Ross Barkley. So good was the Luton midfielder, and so easy did he make it look, it felt like his testimonial at times.
He was the best player on the pitch and, had the home side’s Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes dictated the contest like Luton’s former England star, the result would have been different.
Newcastle led twice but lacked control and were fortunate to take a point. Barkley, by contrast, controlled the game and deserved to be on the winning team. Are we really sure he is a former England player?
‘I don’t want to create big headlines,’ said Luton boss Rob Edwards. ‘Gareth Southgate is very good at his job and he knows far more than me. All I know is that I love Ross and he’s playing really well.’
Barkley, 30, scored one and created another on a chaotic afternoon in which he was a calming presence. Always wanting the ball and never wasting it, he was the game’s adult. Never did we think we would say that about a player who once lacked the maturity to convert his youthful promise.
Ross Barkley was the best player on the pitch in Luton's 4-4 draw with Newcastle on Saturday
The former England star is making up for lost time with assured performances at the heart of his team's midfield
Between leaving Everton for Chelsea aged 24 and signing for Luton on a free transfer — via Aston Villa and Nice — he made just 47 Premier League starts. It was half a decade wasted, but he is making up for lost time.
It is not a stretch to say he would improve Newcastle’s team. They do not treat the football with the same care as Barkley and that irresponsibility cost them here. Sean Longstaff twice fired them in front in the first half, but at no point were they convincing.
From Barkley’s free-kick the ball ended up on the brow of Gabriel Osho for the first equaliser, before he started and finished the move for his own close-range strike in the 40th minute. When he laid on a goal for Elijah Adebayo just after the hour, Luton went 4-2 up. Kieran Trippier and Harvey Barnes then scored to rescue a home point.
‘There was lots of good and lots of bad,’ said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe. In truth, there was more bad than good, especially given Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Aston Villa was supposed to mark the start of a revival.
Luton boss Rob Edwards heaped praise on the former Chelsea and Everton star after the game
The positives were the return of substitutes Barnes and Callum Wilson from injury and the spirit of the two-goal fightback. Howe agreed it was a game they would have lost a few weeks ago without the ability to make those changes.
But Newcastle will take one step forward and one back if they continue to give the ball away like they do. Sandro Tonali, suspended until August, was supposed to provide the midfield composure that Barkley has added for Luton this season.
Talk of England was not confined to Barkley afterwards. Wilson played for the first time since Boxing Day and did well. When he is fit, he performs. He has 45 goals from 67 Premier League starts for Newcastle. So, is Euro 2024 on his mind?
‘One hundred per cent,’ he said. ‘Consistency is key for myself. There are the internationals in March and you want to get back in for those and get yourself into the team and start scoring goals. I have the Euro dates marked out, but it is a long way off and there are games to play and goals to score before then.’
On this evidence, Barkley might also be minded to keep those dates free.
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