With anticipation for the European Championship rising, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool forward analysed the friendly between England and Austria and discussed the many vital decisions lying ahead for national coach Gareth Southgate.
John Barnes Exclusive: Performance matters more than the result against Austria
“England should beat Austria comfortably, by two or three goals. We always do well in friendly matches, qualifying games and the early rounds of tournaments – that’s when people start saying we’re going all the way! But then come the quarter-finals and the semi-finals, when things become more difficult.
“Austria are not as strong as they were a few years ago, but I’ll be happy with a 0-0 draw against them if we can see a method emerging, and we then stick with this way of playing rather than chopping and changing every game.
“Of course, you want to win every match but at this point it’s more important to put on a good performance. Are the team playing with cohesion and understanding? That’s really what you are looking for.
“The result is always important, but it’s the performance Gareth Southgate will be focusing on. If England perform really well, hit the bar ten times and draw 0-0, he won’t be too worried about that.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Defensive cohesion will be a sign of progress
“Cohesion at this stage is important, especially defensively. In possession, England are playing really well going forward against the lesser teams. We have lots of great players who are very good on the ball and play with confidence and fluidity.
“But the defensive cohesion – as Chelsea showed against Manchester City in the Champions League Final at the weekend – is very important, especially when you’re getting into the latter stages of a tournament.
“Gareth will be looking for that, but you’re not necessarily going to be tested in warm-up matches against the likes of Austria. I’m sure Gareth would have liked to see how his side perform when they come under pressure against a very good team.”
John Barnes Exclusive: England need to find a settled way of playing
“Sides like Spain, Italy and Germany all have a way of playing. England are still searching for a way to play, depending on who we’re facing. Going into a tournament without having a settled way of playing, rather than a settled team, isn’t ideal.
“That is where England have always fallen down. We’ve tinkered with different formations and different players. We’ve had three at the back, four at the back, attacking full-backs, defensive full-backs. Most teams have a way of playing and they stick with that, regardless of whether they change the personnel or not.
“Other nations have players in their squads who may not even be in the top teams in their country. It doesn’t matter whether or not they play for teams lower down the table, they fit into the way Spain or Germany want to play.
“We just look for players who are playing at the top level, at the top clubs, at the top of their game. Putting all the No.10s who are playing well into the squad, and four right-backs because they’re all playing well, really doesn’t makes sense.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Defensive midfield is key to the side’s balance
“Gareth also needs to decide on a formation. I don’t think he is particularly comfortable with a back four; he likes attacking full-backs and he doesn’t think he can use them with only two centre-backs.
“So he may play three, but that means you’ve got to have one less midfield player. If you’re playing Harry Kane up front with two out wide, and two holding midfield players, trying to fit his No.10s in isn’t easy. It’s another problem Gareth has to solve.
“England have lots of players in competition for attacking midfield places, so the pressure will be on them to perform well in the warm-up matches against Austria and Romania.
“But we haven’t got much competition for the holding midfield positions. You can see the value of having a defensive midfielder if you look at the Champions League Final; Manchester City left Rodri and Fernandinho out, and look what happened to them. They had all those attacking players on the field, but you really need to have that balance.
“Once you get to the last eight and the last four of a tournament, the balance really needs to be right. Declan Rice is a good, effective player but do you want a young player without much experience to be your rock in front of the back four? Jordan Henderson has been injured for much of the season. He has the experience, but if you haven’t played for several months, that’s not going to help you. “
John Barnes Exclusive: England need certainty going into the tournament
“Anyone who plays against Austria will have to treat it as a competitive match. You are not only in competition for places in the team, but for places in the squad.
“Gareth will be looking for players who can adapt quickly into an international situation where, in the not-too-distant future, you could be playing competition football.
“He hasn’t got very much time to make decisions as to what his squad’s going to be – and he has to decide what his formation is going to be.
“England don’t need that uncertainty going into the tournament because we don’t have an easy group. We’ve got to face Scotland, and you know the Scots will be up for that; Croatia beat us at the World Cup; and the Czech Republic are a decent side. We can’t afford any slip-ups.”
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