Ross Barkley must fight to win Aston Villa starting spot back – Dean Smith

Ross Barkley File Photo
(Image credit: Peter Powell)

Ross Barkley must fight to win his place back for in-form Aston Villa, boss Dean Smith has warned.

The on-loan Chelsea midfielder has been out for a month with a hamstring injury.

He is expected to be available for the Boxing Day visit of Crystal Palace and is due to return to training on Wednesday.

Villa are ninth in the Premier League and three points behind the top five, with two games in hand, with Smith suggesting England man Barkley is not guaranteed an instant return.

He said: “That’s for Ross to get back into the team and he’ll know that.

“I want the problem of having top players like Barkley and (Ezri) Konsa coming back to full fitness and pushing me in terms of getting back into the starting line-up.

“It was a really good performance on Sunday against West Brom and followed on from a really good performance against Burnley.

“The only thing missing from the 27 shots against Burnley was converting them.

“It looked similar against West Brom until the 80th minute, but we showed some really good patience within the game, and – at the moment – we’re looking a really good team.”

Without Barkley, Villa have kept in touch with the European spots and brushed the Baggies aside 3-0 on Sunday.

The England international joined on a season-long loan in the summer with Ollie Watkins, Bertrand Traore, Matty Cash and Emi Martinez as Villa strengthened after avoiding the drop on the final day last season with Smith pleased with their depth.

“The last two matches have proved it is there,” he said.

“We had four new starters against Burnley in (Kortney) Hause, (Anwar) El Ghazi, Elmo (Ahmed Elmohamady) and (Marvelous) Nakamba, and they all played really well in that game.

“Kortney and El Ghazi have continued that along with Traore, who’s probably only played 300 minutes or so this season.

“He played really well against West Brom too, so we’ve proved we have that depth and the ones who haven’t been regular starters this season have shown they’re ready to take their chances when the opportunity comes around.”

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