‘A Sit Down with John Barnes’ – 15th June 2021

Following England’s victory over Croatia on Sunday, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former England midfielder assessed England’s win against Croatia, their upcoming fixtures against Scotland and the Czech Republic, Georginio Wijnaldum’s Liverpool departure and his thoughts on Celtic’s new boss.

John Barnes Exclusive: After beating Croatia on Sunday, England should comfortably go through the group 

“It was pleasantly surprising to see England win on Sunday. They did well, they controlled the game, had a good shape and balance, and they limited the opposition’s chances. It was a difficult game to negotiate because Croatia are a good side, though probably not as good as they once were with the ageing players in their side.

“These tournament games are always tricky, and it’s always great to have a good start. Next up, England face Scotland and then the Czech Republic in their last group game – they [England] really should go through now.” 

John Barnes Exclusive: The Czech Republic game will be a tougher test than the Scotland game

“The Czech Republic game will now be England’s toughest test remaining in the group. They’re a young side with a couple of good players, as we’ve seen in the Premier League. 

“Playing Scotland, ‘the Old Enemy’, is always going to be hard, but they’re not the Scotland of old, who had similar levels of quality to England in their Euro 1996 team – this is a game England should win!

“The fact that it’s not in a full-capacity stadium will help England more than Scotland because the Tartan Army have always inspired Scotland sides. If England play as well as they can, they’ll get through.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Fans criticised Southgate’s team selection on Croatia, but we must trust in what he’s doing

“When the team to face Croatia was announced, Gareth Southgate faced some criticism from the fans, but ultimately, he knew better.

“With a back four, playing Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice as holding midfielders was the right option. People suggest ‘Let’s just go for it, and play Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, everybody’, but then the side’s balance would be wrong. The team was impeccably balanced and we’re going to see more of that. Without Phillips or Rice, if England lost the ball, how would they protect their back four?

“The back four isn’t England’s strongest point. If they still had John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville, then you could play all the attacking players! 

“Gareth may be more attacking in the Scotland game, so England can dominate them, create more chances and score more goals. The further England progress, the more pragmatic their team selection must be. Gareth will do that.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Kalvin Phillips will play a vital role for England this summer

“Kalvin Phillips was excellent against Croatia, but it is one good game. We shouldn’t put too much pressure on players for one or two good games and say how great they are. He will be important moving forward because that part of the midfield is where the game is won or lost, playing against teams like France, Belgium and Germany.

“He will be important not only in terms of coming forward and creating, but also providing insurance in front of the back four. 

“England should always play two other midfielders alongside him. One holding, like Declan Rice or Jordan Henderson, with a third member of the midfield being Mason Mount, Jack Grealish or someone else. But those two positions are crucial.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Kieran Trippier’s selection was justified but it won’t happen every game

“Kieran Trippier played left-back against Croatia, but it doesn’t mean he’s nailed down that position for the entire tournament. Against Scotland [a more defensive side], England should have more possession and might need somebody going down the line to put crosses in, which Harry Kane could benefit from. Then you might look at Ben Chilwell or Luke Shaw.  

“Defensively, selecting Trippier was a good move. Later in the tournament he may play there again against a team like Belgium – where we need defensive reinforcements.”

John Barnes Exclusive: No England player has a right to be in the starting team

“At club level, players may dissent if they aren’t playing. However, with England, you understand you’re in a squad and the manager picks a team he feels is correct for each game.

“If Harry Kane was left out, maybe there’d be dissent because he should be the first name on the team sheet, but nobody has a divine right to say, ‘I should be playing’. 

“Versatility ensures that Gareth Southgate can rotate players and the formation. He knows he has players who can adapt, individually, and tactically to different formations and systems.”

john barnes

John Barnes Exclusive: Georginio Wijnaldum won’t be a big loss for Liverpool

“Georginio Wijnaldum played well for the Netherlands in their opening match. He’s been a fantastic player for Liverpool, but he won’t be that big a miss for the club. 

“Gini doesn’t win you matches, generally. The front three do, and the back four do. 

“They’ll miss him but they’d miss Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez or Alisson more. He’s [Wijnaldum] not Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva, he can be replaced. 

“Gini is a hard-working midfield player, of which Liverpool have several. He didn’t play every week, and Liverpool have got Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Thiago and Fabinho – it’s not a position they should be concerned about.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Celtic fans must support the new manager, otherwise Rangers will win the league again

“Ange Postecoglou has been named as the new manager of Celtic, and if the club want to be successful, everyone must get behind him. He hasn’t managed in Europe, and some people will think this makes his appointment a risk – not in terms of his ability, but in terms of the perception of his ability. Everyone must support him and give him time.

“The players have to buy in to what he wants – he’s has a good reputation for managing football teams and has been successful. 

“If people are going to be negative from the start and not give him an opportunity, Rangers will win the league again. Celtic fans have to make up their mind as to what they want – but I’m sure they’ll support him.”

John Barnes Exclusives: England players will be able to handle the pressure throughout the tournament

“England will be able to handle the pressure and expectation as Euro 2020 progresses. Of course, once you get all the way to a semi-final, it’s not just about pressure, it’s about playing teams who are equally as good as you, if not better. 

“If England can maximize their potential, and another side underperforms, England will beat them. However, if we play at our very best and for example Belgium did too, they’d beat us as they’ve done prior. 

“In those circumstances, if England lose it’s not because they couldn’t handle the pressure, it’s simple because they faced a better side. 

“This whole idea that if you lose you haven’t handled the pressure is crazy. If you get to a semi-final and perform as well as you can but still lose, you can’t ask any more. 

“For example, in 1990 when England lost to West Germany in the semi-final. That was the best game we played and we could have won, but we lost. We were fortunate against Belgium and Cameroon but because we won those games, people forget that.

“All you can ask of players is that they play as well as they can and then hopefully, that’s good enough for them to win. You can’t ask any more than that.”

John Barnes Exclusive: No one is guaranteed a spot in the England team, apart from Harry Kane

“Gareth Southgate is capable of being ruthless in his decision making. However, his selection against Croatia wasn’t ruthless, nobody is guaranteed a place – it’s not as if he was leaving Bryan Robson, Peter Shilton or Terry Butcher out!

“No one in this new England team, apart from Harry Kane, can demand their starting spot – nor can people expect them to 100% be in the team. 

“Gareth hasn’t been particularly ruthless – and players these days accept the manager’s decision anyway.”

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