Ross Barkley has reportedly been handed a lifeline over his Chelsea future by boss Frank Lampard.
Barkley has been in fine form since joining Aston Villa on loan, scoring twice in five Premier League starts to help fire Dean Smith's side up to sixth in the table.
The 26-year-old joined Villa during the summer transfer window, having asked Lampard for a loan move after the manager was unable to give him any guarantees of first-team football this season.
Barkley was shunted down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge following the £72million summer signing of Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen.
But there could still be a future for Barkley in West London, with Lampard reportedly impressed by the midfielder's performances for Villa.
The Chelsea boss recently contacted Barkley to congratulate him on his strong start to life at Villa Park, according to Eurosport.
The publication reports that Lampard is 'fascinated' by elements of Barkley's game, but felt he would benefit from a full season of regular first-team football rather than playing a bit-part role.
And if Barkley keeps up his eye-catching form, it is thought the door could be open to a Chelsea return for next season.
Barkley is developing a promising partnership with Jack Grealish at Villa, with the two having played a key role in the 3-0 victory over Arsenal before the international break.
Villa boss Smith said he spotted an opportunity to bring in Barkley on loan when he saw that Chelsea were making early moves in the summer transfer window.
"We'd asked the question earlier in the season,” Smith revealed last month. “I know the quality that is involved there and you're looking at Chelsea who have bought some top quality players into the club.
“They were one of the first movers in the market this year so we just sensed there may be an opportunity to go and get somebody of Ross's quality out.
“Thankfully, Frank felt that it would help him by coming here and playing games this season."
That certainly seems to have been the case – but it remains to be seen whether Chelsea will be the ultimate beneficiaries of Barkley's revival.
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