THOMAS TUCHEL is baffled by Ross Barkley’s downward slide from star to Chelsea outcast.
Saturday evening's home match against Aston Villa reignites smouldering questions about the midfielder’s meteoric fall.
Barkley spent last season on loan at Villa from Chelsea.
He got off to a bright start to the season but fell away — to the extent that he was thrown out of a posh London hotel in May for being drunk and disorderly.
He does not even have a Premier League squad number this year under boss Tuchel, who says Barkley should also be confused about his recent decline.
Blues boss Tuchel said: “He is also asking himself the same questions and maybe all of us here, to be honest, don’t have the answers.
“I’m sure that he worries a lot about the situation.
“‘How can it come so far that right now I’m like in between the chairs and don’t really know where I belong and what my role is?’.
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“Normally you expect somebody who goes on loan from Chelsea to Aston Villa to be the main guy at Villa. Then he comes back and takes the next steps. This has not happened, so maybe there is a long way to go, but you never know.
“What I did say was, ‘Stay humble, get it off your shoulders, all the opinions, all the expectations from everybody, all the past, what could have been, if I did this, if I did that . . .’
“At the moment he is part of the training group. Now it’s most important that he accepts the situation.
“He does not have to love the situation but he needs to accept it in a positive way.”
Chelsea could not even find a club willing to do a loan deal for Barkley this season despite his past pedigree.
Since winning the last of his two major trophies with Chelsea in 2019, the midfielder’s star has faded amid regular unsavoury episodes while enjoying downtime.
Tuchel added: “He has the ability but this is not enough.
“I saw so many players who can train on certain levels but there is so much more to it, to becoming a regular Premier League top player.
“So let’s see. It’s never too late and I will give him the support that I can. We need to wait and have patience.”
One man who will be slotting into Chelsea’s midfield on Saturday is their new signing Saul Niguez.
A loan deal with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid was hammered out at 11.34pm on transfer deadline day last week, although Tuchel claims he was super cool about the drama which unfolded.
Glitches in computer software delayed an already 11th-hour deal.
Tuchel said: “It was pretty relaxed with a good outcome because in the end it was possible to add Saul into the group which was a key position for us to have more alternatives.
“Saul has been on the radar for many years. I have known the player for many years.
“I have fought with other clubs for the player and it wasn’t possible.
“When at the end it was possible to have a loan we were very excited about it.
“We know the player very well. He’s in the squad and we will have to see with Jorginho if it makes sense that we put him into another 90 minutes.
“Because Jorginho can never say no. When Italy calls, he can never say no.
“Even when they’re 5-0 up, he still wants every ball and runs, so he’s quite tired.
“So it’s absolutely possible Saul plays for us because he has the quality and the expertise and experience.”
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Chelsea will definitely be missing winger Christian Pulisic, who returned from international duty with the USA on crutches because of an ankle injury.
Midfielder N’Golo Kante is also crocked.
CHELSEA (likely): Mendy, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Hudson-Odoi, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso, Havertz, Lukaku, Mount.
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