LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — It was natural to put Ross Barkley's nasty challenge on Jordan Henderson down to emotions running high in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
Look deeper, though, and it might just have been the moment when months of pent-up frustration inside the Everton midfielder came to a head.
Compared by many to England great Paul Gascoigne because of his technique, build and playing style, Barkley has long been viewed as one of English soccer's most talented players. Much is expected of him by Everton fans desperate for Barkley — a local lad attached to the club since the age of 11 — to help the northwest club revive its glory years of the 1980s, when the Merseyside rivals were the country's dominant forces.
Barkley is 23 now and should no longer just be regarded as one for the future. It is all about the here and now for Everton manager Ronald Koeman and the team's supporters, and Barkley hasn't developed as many would have hoped.
Go to a game at Goodison Park and what quickly becomes apparent is the heightened sense of expectation when Barkley gets the ball — and the loud groans of disappointment when something he tries doesn't work. Everton supporters can be among the most passionate in England but they can also be among the most demanding, and Barkley appears to be lacking confidence and struggling under the weight of pressure.
Hence the ugly lunge on Henderson's right ankle in the second half of Everton's 1-0 loss against Liverpool on Monday that earned him a yellow card — a red probably would have been merited — and sparked a melee on the field.
Maybe over-praised by Roberto Martinez in his time as Everton manager from 2013-16, Barkley has found Koeman to be a harsher judge.
"Sometimes I expect more from Ross Barkley," Koeman said this month after dropping the playmaker from the team for a match against Manchester United. "He needs to accept it. He needs to show it on the training pitch."
After also criticizing Barkley this season for his tactical indiscipline, Koeman has dropped the player for games against Manchester City and Watford, too. In the final months of last year, Barkley was in the form of his career but now he is in and out of the Everton team at a time when his future is up for debate, with 18 months left on his contract.
Barkley is also being overlooked by England's national team, with Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney preferred as options in the No. 10 position behind the striker. Barkley played at the 2014 World Cup, went to this year's European Championship — albeit, without playing a single minute — and now is out of the squad completely.
At a time when Barkley should be growing in stature, he's in decline as far as appearances for club and country is concerned.
"He is young, but he is not because he has been playing four years in the first team," Koeman said. "It means you are not a talent anymore, and need to show what you can do."
Barkley is well-built, impressively two-footed and can worry opposition defenses with his powerful, driving runs. Much of his time off the field is spent watching footage on YouTube of Zinedine Zidane and Gascoigne, his favorite players growing up, as well as contemporary stars in his position such as Mesut Ozil.
To be at the level of those kinds of players, Barkley needs to start being more consistent, more prolific — he has two Premier League goals this season — and less error-prone.
That might even require a move away from Everton to kick-start his career.