Antonio Conte has backed Ross Barkley to be in contention for England’s World Cup squad after being pleasantly surprised by the midfielder’s physical condition.
Barkley arrived at Stamford Bridge from Everton early this month having not played since May due to a hamstring injury.
Blues boss Conte has been impressed with the 24-year-old’s fitness levels and believes he can force his way into the thinking of Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate ahead of Russia 2018.
“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,” said Conte, whose team host Bournemouth in the Premier League on Wednesday evening.
“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 minute of Southgate’s 14 matches in charge of the national team. He won the last of his 22 caps under Roy Hodgson in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly against Australia in May 2016.
After making two cup appearances for the Premier League champions so far, he now has just under four months to work his way back into the international reckoning.
Club manager Conte believes Barkley is a versatile performer and thinks adapting to Chelsea’s style of play could be his biggest challenge.
“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.”
Conte will be without defender David Luiz and injured attacking duo Willian and Alvaro Morata against the Cherries.
He has yet to decide if Barkley will make his first league appearance for the Blues in that fixture.
“I don’t know but he could be in contention to play and for sure we have to put a part of the risk, to push the player to come into the team quickly because we need to do this because we have Morata and Willian out injured and we don’t have many solutions,” Conte added.
“I’m very happy because the player has great potential and for sure he is changing his way to play.”
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