Ahead of England’s semi-final against Ukraine at EURO 2020, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former England midfielder shared his thoughts on Jack Grealish starting against the Ukraine, Gareth Southgate’s new contract offer and England’s key men in the squad.
John Barnes Exclusive: England were brilliant against Germany but let’s not get too excited yet
“England’s victory over Germany was fantastic. If you look at the way Germany had performed in the tournament, apart from against Portugal, this German team isn’t great. However, history tells us they always beat us in tournaments.
“It was pleasing to get that ‘hoodoo’ off our back. The first 15 minutes Germany were on top, after which England controlled the game. We had some good fortune when Thomas Muller was through one-on-one to equalise and missed.
“We have a nice draw but can’t get carried away. People say England shouldn’t fear Ukraine but look what happened to France against Switzerland.
“All this excitement and dreaming of winning the final is good for the fans, although players and the staff must approach the Ukraine game with their feet on the ground.
“I’m not getting carried away, I’m quietly confident but my feet are firmly on the ground.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Jack Grealish will only start against Ukraine if England plays with a back four
“Gareth Southgate will probably change his side again for the Ukraine match. We’re not going to see a pattern or a system now. You can’t develop a system in such a short period between games.
“We’ve got individuals who create chances and score goals, which is what has happened so far, but in terms of us playing in a particular fashion, we’re not going to see that from England. That’s not to say we can’t win, but we aren’t going to see an identifiable system in this tournament whereby we know how they’re going to play.
“For instance, will Jack Grealish start against Ukraine? It really depends on who else is playing. If you’re playing three at the back, you wouldn’t pick him. if you’re playing four at the back you might.
“Gareth isn’t going to pick Grealish and then pick the team around him. He’ll decide whether he wants to play three or four at the back and then he’ll decide whether there’s a place for Grealish.
“England don’t have a player where you’d say, ‘Pick him and then put a team out that fits him’. So it depends how Gareth approaches this game as to whether Grealish starts or not.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Raheem Sterling are England’s key men
“The key men in the England team who are going to lead them going forward in the tournament are Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Harry Maguire. They’re the ones we really have to hope keep on performing.
“Sterling because he’s on fire at the moment, you have to use him while he’s hot. It was great to see Kane scoring because if you’re going to beat Ukraine and get to the semi-finals, get to the final and win it, you’ll need him to be scoring – you can’t rely on Sterling to score all the goals.
“Maguire at the back has leadership qualities. Teams are still creating opportunities against us – Germany could have scored two or three times – so as a stopper you need Maguire to be there.
“Special mention has to be made of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, because of what they’re doing in midfield to protect the back four and to work hard.”
John Barnes Exclusive: If England don’t get to the final, we shouldn’t call it an underachievement
“Now that France, who were the favourites, have gone out, Belgium are the team to avoid in the final. I’d much rather face Switzerland, but if that’s not going to happen, it would be Italy or Spain rather than Belgium.
“But we mustn’t see it as an underachievement if England don’t get to the final, because they’re not the number one or the number two team in Europe. If they get to the semi-final, that’s probably about as far as they are supposed to go.
“Obviously, losing before the final would be a disappointment. Failing to get to the final would mean England losing either to Ukraine, the Czech Republic or Denmark. But if you then say that we got to the semi-finals and are, therefore, one of the top four teams in Europe, you can’t look at that as a disappointment; the disappointment would be that we’d have lost to a team we should beat.
“England don’t have a right to be getting to the final and winning, because there are teams in Europe who are equally as good, if not better than us.
“For example, France have to be disappointed that they’re not actually winning the tournament, never mind getting knocked out in the last 16. Then of course if Belgium don’t win, they would be more disappointed than England because they are – as the bookies and the rankings will tell you – better than us.
“So the whole idea of, “We’re England, we should be the best”, is unrealistic. What we have to do is maximise our potential. If we get to the final and win, fine. If we don’t, then of course we’re going to be disappointed – but we can’t grumble.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Southgate’s new contract offer doesn’t mean anything
“The idea of the FA announcing plans to extend Gareth Southgate’s contract until after the next World Cup means nothing. He’s done well for England, but what if we don’t quality for the World Cup? What if we get there and lose in the last 16 and lose the next five friendlies? What will they do then?
“Remember, Alan Pardew had an eight-year contract at Newcastle. England can give Gareth a new contract, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to be there for the next four of five years, just as it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be there.
“Is it a way of the FA showing how much they believe in him? Well, did Tottenham not sign a contract with Jose Mourinho and believe in him? And then what happened?
“Everybody can sign a contract, and everybody believes in the manager when they sign that contract, and then six months later they fire him.
“So the FA could give Gareth a new contract and say, ‘We believe in you’. If England lose the next five games, will they still believe in him?”
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