Everton manager Roberto Martinez praised Ross Barkley for accepting responsibility and having the attitude to turn his team’s fortunes around.
Martinez’s men endured a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, finishing 11th, but they have eight points from five games in a fine opening to this season.
Barkley has already matched his goals tally (two) of last league season and bettered his assists (three, compared to two).
Martinez said the 21-year-old’s attitude deserved praise as the England international aimed for improvement, rather than blaming others.
“Football is a team sport and last season was a disappointment for us in the league,” Martinez said ahead of his team’s trip to Swansea City on Saturday.
“We started with a real good feel-good factor and great expectations, but we never reached those.
“Now as a young player, you’ve got a choice. You can say, ‘It’s the team’s fault’ or you can change the team’s performance by improving. That was the attitude of Ross, which is very rare in football.
“He openly said he was not performing as well as he should be. When you have a young player with that incredible attitude, that’s when you see a difference.
“The difference between last season and this one is down to his choice as an individual to take responsibility and say what could he do to make the team better.”
Barkley was substituted out of league games 10 times last season and Martinez said that was down to performance.
But the Spaniard is willing to use the midfielder more, if it suits, this season.
“If you give him minutes for the sake of it, you’re not going to get the benefit,” Martinez said.
“But as a player, what I’ve seen with Ross is a maturity because of the decisions he has taken on the pitch, which allows him to play different roles.”