Antonio Conte says he was surprised with Ross Barkley’s physical condition on his arrival at Chelsea and expects the midfielder to make a push for England’s World Cup squad.
Barkley signed for Chelsea on January 5 having not played since May 2017 due to a hamstring injury suffered at Everton last season.
Conte says he has been impressed with the 24-year-old’s fitness levels after he made his debut in Chelsea’s Carabao Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal, and believes Barkley can force his way into England manager Gareth Southgate’s ‘strong’ squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League game against Bournemouth, Conte said: “I thought that I would find a player with not a good physical condition, instead I was surprised to find a player in a good physical condition. It was a positive surprise.
“There is time [for Barkley to make the World Cup].
“But at the same time in every game when you decide to play for a great team you are in contention with other players and you have to try to exploit every chance that you have to play and to show that you deserve to play.
“I think the time is right to find a place in the World Cup but for sure it won’t be easy in the English squad, the squad is very strong.”
Barkley has not played a single minute of Southgate’s 14 matches in charge of the national team thus far.
He won the last of his 22 international caps under Roy Hodgson – now at Crystal Palace – in a friendly against Australia in May 2016.
Conte believes Barkley is a versatile performer but admits adapting to Chelsea’s style of play could be problematic.
“My worry is not about his physical condition but only to go into our idea of football,” Conte said.
“To understand the movement without the ball, to understand the movement with the ball, these are the most important things.
“And for this he needs a period to go into our idea of football. In the way that we are playing, he can play like a number 10, like striker, on the right, on the left, or if we decide to play with the three midfielders he can play midfielder, on the right, on the left.”