Aston Villa caught everybody off guard in the summer transfer window when they announced the signing of Ross Barkley.
The summer spending spree at Chelsea saw Barkley fall down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, but media talk of a potential exit was not rife by any stretch.
Though a handful of tentative rumours linking the man once dubbed the next Paul Gascoigne with a move to Villa did surface in the weeks building up to his arrival, the transfer seemed to accelerate to completion while nobody was watching.
Dean Smith immediately hailed the new signing: “Capturing a player of Ross’s quality is a real coup for our club and I am certain he will thrive here and improve our team.”
Given the level of quality Barkley has shown in fleeting bursts during his career so far, and the fact he is regularly selected at international level, it was difficult to dispute Smith's assessment.
However, there were questions marks over how Villa could accommodate a creative playmaker of Barkley's ilk in the same starting XI as Grealish.
In the space of just a few short weeks, however, those lingering doubts have been quashed emphatically.
Together Barkley and Grealish have immediately formed a frightening understanding, playing with a level of intuitive ease that suggests they've been linking up since birth.
Their insatiable, instinctive play has given Villa a completely new dynamic in attack, easing the burden on Grealish's shoulders to the point where the Midlands outfit find themselves just three points off top with a game in hand.
Perhaps all Barkley needed was a manager who believed in him as much as Smith appears to.
By Barkley's own admission the pairing appear to have established a solid working relationship already, per Guardian.
“I’ve had a lot of one-on-one meetings with the manager, talking about how we can improve, what we lacked last season and what he learned from last season.”
Meanwhile, the manager's praise for the loanee at the end of October alluded to the level of respect between the pair: "His work ethic and attitude has been tremendous. He brings us that added bit of quality that we needed."
The quality he has brought to the club can be seen through one core Premier League statistic.
Barkley's creative talents have come to the fore and his three key passes per game, per Whoscored, have helped Villa to notch 18 goals in just seven games. Only Kevin De Bruyne (3.3) has averaged more key passes in England's top flight.
It's still early days in the season but the manner in which he has started the campaign suggests Barkley - valued at £19.35m by Transfermarkt - may have turned a significant corner in his career.
He was unfortunate to miss out on the most recent England squad but, given Southgate has called upon on him plenty of times in the past, his credentials for Euro 2021 are unlikely to be ignored if he continues in this rich vein of form.
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