London, United Kingdom | AFP | Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley is braced for a hostile reception when his old club Everton visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Barkley left Everton to join Chelsea in January after 13 years at Goodison Park and this weekend faces the Toffees for the first time since that controversial move.
The 24-year-old did not play for Everton in the last seven months of his time on Merseyside due to a hamstring problem and eventually moved to Chelsea in a cut-price £15 million ($19 million) deal.
With his contract winding down, Barkley had initially been linked with Tottenham before the Chelsea switch and his desire to further his career away from Everton, combined with the protracted nature of the transfer, soured his time with Toffees fans.
Barkley expects those Everton supporters to make their feelings known when he comes face to face with them in west London, but although he admits it will be a “strange” experience he is determined not to be intimidated.
“I don’t think the reception will be the best,” Barkley told the Evening Standard.
“I’m not nervous, I’m excited to play against my former club and team-mates. I understand how some of them play, so that could be an advantage for me.
“On the day I might get a few nerves as it will feel a bit strange. I’m looking forward to catching up with some of the staff there who I used to get on really well with.”
After struggling to break into the Chelsea team under previous boss Antonio Conte last season, Barkley has impressed new manager Maurizio Sarri.
The England international has become a regular under Sarri, scoring three goals in his last five Chelsea appearances.
“I was approaching 25 and I felt looking back I could have improved a lot more (at Everton),” Barkley said.
“At Chelsea I knew I’d improve a lot quicker around better players, world-class players.”
– Giroud keeps the faith –
Sarri must decide whether to use Alvaro Morata up front after the Spain forward’s brace in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.
The Italian described Morata as “fragile” after some diffident performances this term and Sarri could keep faith with Olivier Giroud, who ended a six-month barren streak with the decisive strike in Chelsea’s 1-0 Europa League win at BATE Borisov on Thursday.
France striker Giroud quipped he contemplated seeking religious help, prior to ending a run of 794 minutes without a Chelsea goal.
“It’s true I’ve been looking forward to it. I kept working hard in training, kept the faith. I always score goals,” Giroud said.
“At the end of the day it has to come back. I didn’t know when, but I’m glad.
“I’m happy for the team and for myself I hope I will have the opportunity to score more.
“I was thinking shall I see a priest or something like that? No, I’m joking.”
Sarri was not satisfied with Chelsea’s lethargic performance at BATE, despite sealing qualification for the knockout stages with two matches to spare, and is likely to restore rested defenders David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso.
Chelsea sit second in the Premier League two points behind leaders Manchester City as they bid to extend their unbeaten run to 18 games in all competitions.
“Everything is not perfect, but we work on it,” Giroud said.