Plenty has been put on the shoulders of Everton’s Ross Barkley. Around this time last year, his club manager said when Barkley retired he would go down as the greatest player his country ever produced. The soon-to-be 22-year-old is far away from accomplishing that massive expectation but he’s in the midst of the best campaign in his young career.

The England international last year made 29 appearances in the Premier League for Everton and only contributed two goals and two assists. The Toffees finished the season in 11th place, their worst finish since 2005-06 when they also finished in 11th place. This year, the Liverpool-based club has been one of the best attacking teams in the league by scoring the third most goals in the first division. The five-time FA Cup winners have been unselfish with their ball distribution in the final third as attacking midfielder Gerard Deulofeu leads them with five assists followed by Barkley and forwards Arouna Kone and Romelu Lukaku with four. Barkley also leads the team in chances created with 24. In the goals department, Lukaku leads his squad with nine while Barkley and Kone are next with five each. Following Everton’s 4-0 victory over Aston Villa, in which Barkley and Lukaku each had a brace, Roberto Martinez explained why he felt Ross was improving rapidly.

“We all agree that he’s a special talent and his young career is quite exciting. What I love about Ross is his passion for the game. In the new generation of footballers it’s very rare to see players like Ross Barkley or John Stones – they are in love with playing the game. They’ve got that passion of just coming in and training and being the best that they can, and clearly that reflects in what they do in the games,” said Martinez.

Before this season began, one of the complaints by pundits about Barkley is that many didn’t know what the youngster’s best position was. Some felt he should be a box-to-box midfielder. Others felt that being a no. 10 made more sense and a few even thought that his dribbling and crossing skills would be better utilized as a winger. Ross thought being up front leading the attacking line was where he felt most comfortable.

“I’m a striker. I feel I can have my greatest impact there because I’m free to roam around the pitch, take players on, have shots and create chances,” said Barkley to Premier League World in March.

Due to Lukaku and Kone being in form this season up top, Ross hasn’t received any chances on being Everton’s main striker but he has found a place to call his own playing behind the no. 9 as a second striker/playmaker. He’s already dished the most assists he’s ever had in a Premier League campaign and is two goals away from passing his previous career-high. Recently, England manager Roy Hodgson gave Barkley some players to study and see how he could develop to be similar to two Italian legends.

“If you want to be that midfielder, who is really a forward and who plays behind the center forward, then you have to score goals. If I was a player in that position, I would be looking at the real classic players in that position from the past. I would be looking at Roberto Baggio in particular, who I had the pleasure of working with very briefly [at Inter], and Francesco Totti. I’d be looking at them and thinking about the fact that in their careers … they scored an awful lot of goals. The way things are going – the importance of scoring goals and how few there are – you can’t have the luxury of someone who can play in there unless he’s going to be chipping in with a few goals. We’ve talked to Ross about that, he’s more than aware of it. I’m sure Roberto Martinez does too. And I think he’s going to score goals,” said Hodgson last month.

Following Hodgson’s comments, Barkley had an assist in a 2-0 win over Estonia and scored in a 3-0 victory over Lithuania to give the Three Lions a perfect record during the Euro 16 qualification period. Ross still has to prove himself over the course of the season that he deserves to be an automatic starter for England but since he’s currently enjoying the form of his life, that shouldn’t be very difficult.