‘A Sit Down with John Barnes’ – 17th June 2021

Following the win in the first round, we caught up with former Three Lions profile and Liverpool legend, John Barnes. We had a chat about the team selection for the Croatia game, the early surprises at the European Championship and the performance of Wales, who are looking to progress from the group-stages. We also talked about the early transfer rumours, looking at Liverpool’s needs and Jadon Sanchon possibly moving to Manchester United. We finished up by touching upon a few managerial moves that could be made.

What did you make of the England team that started against Croatia and would you make any changes for the Scotland game? Would you rest any players?

It was a fantastic start, full of balance. I always feel they need to have two holding midfielders, so Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice were perfect. Jordan Henderson is not fit but if he played it would have been something similar. We have so many attacking players we need that stability in front of the back four. I was surprised that he played Kieran Tripper at left back instead of Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell, but he’s very good defensively and in a hard game against Croatia he’s probably the better defender and more experienced.

The front three were fine: Foden, Kane and Sterling. I’d have gone for Rashford, but Foden did a great job so that wasn’t too significant. And of course Mason Mount – if you’re going to play four at the back and you have three midfielders, rather than having a number ten like Jack Grealish, Mount is more of a pure midfield player who will drop back and play alongside Phillips and Rice. In a 4-3-3, Mount is probably more suited than Grealish. In saying that, against weaker opposition – and they will expect to have more of the ball against Scotland – maybe that will change, but for the Croatia game that was the perfect lineup.

There’ll be no resting, because the players aren’t going to be that tired. They’ve had a long time off since the season ended. If you look at the Scotland game, they will probably defend deeper and in numbers and that’s where we probably need more width and attacking from the full backs, so I would look to bring in Shaw or Chilwell for Trippier. Sterling is hot at the moment and I would stick with him and Harry Kane. It’s also whether you want to give Rashford a run out instead of Foden, that’s a possibility.

As a former winger, do you think Southgate should persist with Sterling and Foden in wide areas or look to the likes of Rashford and Grealish?

john barnes

They’re not real wingers, they don’t go down the line and put crosses in. We get width from the full backs and if you’ve got attacking full backs, then we can play people like Sterling and Foden or Rashford. If you want more pace to run without the ball, you’d go with Rashford ahead of Foden, but if you want more creativity you’d have Foden. It’s an adaptable squad and a team with players who can adapt to different roles. It was a great start and against Scotland I would expect one or two changes.

Which team has impressed you most in the Euros so far and who do you fancy to win it?

England’s chances are great, regardless of how the first game went. Italy have been fantastic, they’ve scored three goals in both games and they’ve not conceded any. They have great experience but not much mobility. Italy may not go all the way to the final, so Belgium and France for me are the best two teams. France look the most balanced team because defensively they’re so strong and so physical in midfield. Against Germany, they didn’t have much possession but they were still comfortable. With Mbappe and Griezmann and Benzema, as well as Pogba pushing forward, they have the best balance. After that you look at England, Portugal and Italy: they are probably the second favourites.

Wales took a step closer to the knockout stages of the Euros last night? How far do you think they can go and how impressed were you with the performance against Turkey?

I wasn’t impressed with Wales in the first game against Switzerland, they were fortunate to get a draw. But against Turkey they were fantastic, in a hard game, in the heat of Baku. Turkey are a good side and posed problems, but Wales defended well, they attacked well, they created chances and they scored two good goals. They may have maximised their potential in 2016, but they could get to the quarter-finals if they come second in their group. Once you get into the quarter-finals and you’re playing against France or Belgium, these teams are probably too strong. It’d be a tremendous achievement for them to even get through the group, nevermind anything else.

 

Rafa Benitez is on the cusp of the Everton job. How do you think Liverpool fans would react to that and do you think it would be a good appointment?

Liverpool fans love Rafa and what he did for them. And Liverpool sacked him, so it’s not as if he’s deserting them to go to Everton. He lives in the area and it would be a good move for him. He’d be a good manager for Everton and I don’t think Liverpool fans would necessarily turn against him because of that – they know the reality of football. Had he left Liverpool on a high, we didn’t want him to go and then he left for Everton, then maybe that would’ve been different.

They’ll be supportive of it and I think it’ll be a good move for him because he likes discipline, hard work, commitment and determination from his teams and that’s what Everton give you. If you’re going to manage Arsenal or Tottenham where they want a certain style of football, Rafa may not be the right man. But I think Evertonians appreciate hard work, effort and humility and that’s what his teams are, so it will be a good fit. You have to be realistic, Everton finished 10th, so they’ll be looking to improve. When you look at the players they have, they shouldn’t be in the top four. You’re looking between fifth and 10th, that’s where Everton will be looking to compete and I’m sure Rafa will make a push for those positions.

What should Liverpool’s priority in the transfer market be?

They’ve got Konate, they bought Thiago and Jota last year and we have Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip coming back. Unless they lose players, I think they’re fine. The likes of Shaqiri or Origi may go but if they don’t lose any of their main players then I don’t think they necessarily need to do something. They’ve got a good balance and we have to be realistic. It would be nice if Mbappe was coming, but he’s not. It would be nice if Neymar was coming, but he’s not. And it would be nice if Messi was coming.

What are you expecting from Liverpool in the new Premier League season and who do you think is most likely to challenge Man City?

If Van Dijk and Gomez had not got injured they would have challenged for the title last season. The fact that they had to put Henderson and Fabinho, two of the most influential midfielders, back in defence didn’t help us. Thiago had a fantastic season individually but we didn’t win the ball back in midfield or allow our full backs to attack. Once we get the centre-back situation sorted, we’ll be fine.

Sancho to United looks like it might be finally happening. How significant a signing do you think that would be for United?

They’ll still be inconsistent. Manchester United’s problem hasn’t been their attacking play and scoring goals: they’ve got Cavani, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford, Fernandes and Pogba, they’re all good attackers. Sancho will add to that, but their problem is that they’ve not been consistent enough and they’ve conceded goals and lost matches because they’re not strong enough defensively. It’ll be a good signing for them – a young English player which is what you want in the squad. But I don’t think it will make them challengers. They’ll be in the top four but they’re not consistent enough and they haven’t got the right balance between attack and defence to compete with Manchester City or Liverpool. You have to take signings when you can get them. As much as you can say, ‘let’s not buy Sancho and get a centre-back’, if you don’t sign a centre-back you’ve missed the chance to get a really good player. They will be looking at that situation. Lindelof has done okay but Harry Maguire with a solid centre-back alongside him would make Manchester United much more consistent and more solid.

What are your thoughts on Celtic’s appointment of new manager Ange Postecoglou? Could he challenge Steven Gerrard’s Rangers next season?

He will do well if they give him support and they give him time. That’s what you need to do and he’s not a big name manager. The tendency could be if they don’t start like a house on fire to say he’s not good enough. Harmony is the most important thing – Steven Gerrard in his first year didn’t necessarily challenge Celtic but they knew he was the right man for the job. Second year he didn’t win the league either but the third year he did. Not to say it will take Celtic three years, but it shows that if you support the manager you can be successful. Being an ex-Celtic manager I want them to do well, so hopefully it will work out.

Could Gerrard be a future Liverpool manager?

He could be depending on how his career is going when the job becomes available. If the job is available next season and Rangers finish 20 points behind Celtic, probably not. He’s done fantastically well and if the job was available now – not just Liverpool but a top Premier League club – that’s something that he may look at. But I think what Steven has to do is be consistent over time and do this year in year out. If next season things don’t go well, will we be talking about Gerrard to Liverpool? As much as he has that relationship, as Frank Lampard did with Chelsea, I think he needs a few more years of showing that this is what he can consistently do before he looks at the Liverpool job.


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2021-06-17
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