Chelsea got their Europa League campaign underway against PAOK Salonika on Thursday night.
After dropping to a fifth place finish in the Premier League last season, the Blues now find themselves in Europe’s secondary competition but secured a favourable group stage draw.
Nevertheless, the long mid-week trip to Greece was never going to be easy and Maurizio Sarri showed his intent by fielding a surprisingly strong team.
The Europa League has often become an opportunity for managers to field younger teams and even Chelsea fans themselves were taken aback by the selection.
Crucial players such as Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho all made their way into the starting XI despite regularly featuring in the league.
PAOK VS CHELSEA
However, the decision looked to have paid off in the early exchanges with Chelsea wasting little time asserting their authority.
Willian opened the scoring after just seven minutes, slotting the ball neatly underneath Alexandros Paschalakis.
Arguably the finest part of the goal, however, was the role of Ross Barkley who provided the assist with a penetrating run through the PAOK midfield.
CHELSEA FANS REACT TO ROSS BARKLEY’S PERFORMANCE
Barkley has enjoyed greater game-time under Sarri this season and returned to the starting XI in style on Europa League duty, impressing Chelsea fans across Twitter.
Aside from procuring acclaim for his assist, supporters were applauding his overall performance and highlighting how dangerous his runs from deep were proving.
Check out some of the finest tweets below:
Rüdiger bypasses the midfield with his pass forward which Morata plays back for Jorginho who one-times a pass into Barkley's stride and with one touch the Englishman is running at the PAOK back line before assisting Willian whose shot gets under the advancing keeper. 0-1. #CFC pic.twitter.com/chwPdq48Ez
— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) September 20, 2018
Barkley for me has been the best player so far in the first half for Chelsea. He has looked really good today and made some great runs from midfield to the final third.
— Nouman (@nomifooty) September 20, 2018
Barkley has impressed me today, his enthusiasm and willingness to run beyond Morata. We need to see more of that
— Alexis Мамедов (@justwaza) September 20, 2018
Fantastic final third play by Barkley. Mentioned before that his decision-making is what let him down at Everton, so this assist is a good sign of correcting that. Perfectly timed and weighted pass when he had multiple options.
— Matthew Brock (@R1andCircle) September 20, 2018
Nice interception, driving run & disguised pass from Barkley to set up that Willian goal. Sarri’s emphasis on quicker decisions has been good for him #cfc
— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) September 20, 2018
Great job by Ross Barkley to drive up the field and play a perfectly weighted pass to Willian, who puts Chelsea up 1-0. Would be great for England and the Premier League to have Barkley at his very best this season.
— EiF (@EiFSoccer) September 20, 2018
Barkley has definitely improved since his last game. Facing forward a lot more. Linking up play well, making good runs.
— PG (@PGCFC001) September 20, 2018
Barkley really means business this season.
Chelsea fans were feeling excited about Barkley ever since his promising performances in pre-season and the Englishman truly has the bit between his teeth in 2018-19.
There were serious questions raised when Chelsea took the decision to sign him from Everton back in January and no more so when injuries blighted his opening six months.
Now with a run of fitness and clear desire to push on under a new manager, Barkley stands a good chance of breaking into a hugely competitive midfield.
He deserves great credit for holding his own when the likes of Real Madrid loanee Mateo Kovacic and the in-form Ruben Loftus-Cheek are eyeing his position.
Barkley has dropped out of the Premier League team in recent weeks but – if his PAOK performance is anything to go by – that could change very soon.
Do you think Barkley should start for Chelsea in the Premier League? Have your say in the comments section below.