Ahead of England’s first major tournament final in 55 years, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former England and Liverpool midfielder shared his thoughts on Liverpool not needing to sign anyone else this summer, why Kalvin Phillips should stay at Leeds and Sterling’s contentious penalty against Denmark.
John Barnes Exclusive: Winning the semi-final was excellent – hopefully we can win the big one
“England reaching the final is fantastic for the whole country. Prior to this game, England hadn’t conceded and only gone ahead in games. We wondered how they’d respond to going behind.
“They’re young, inexperienced, but showed their composure and calmness. Having gone behind, that’s when you sort your men from your boys, and are able to see if England could come back. We did, it was fantastic, hopefully we can do it again.
“Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were excellent. In England, we believe the solution to winning games is putting attacking players like Jack Grealish and Phil Foden on. That’s not the balance a team needs, you need players like Rice and Phillips, as Italy have with Marco Verratti and Jorginho.
“This was a team performance and where no real individuals stood out. Kyle Walker did very well though. He’s one of our best defenders and any time Denmark countered he was covering runs. He was my man-of-the-match.
John Barnes Exclusive: Grealish coming off was unfortunate, but unsurprising
“In some ways I was surprised when Jack Grealish was taken off, having been substituted on. You don’t want to bring a substitute on and then take him off, but tactically, once England went 2-1 up, why leave him on to try to score a third, when you’re 15 minutes away from the final?
“If you decide to bring a defender on, who do you take off? You’re not going to take off a defensive midfielder or defender, nor Kane or Sterling. It had to be Grealish or Phil Foden, but Foden is more disciplined defensively.
“It was unfortunate, but unsurprising.”
John Barnes Exclusive: No, it wasn’t a penalty – but that’s life
“Was it a penalty? No, but that’s football – it happens. I didn’t feel it was a penalty, and after seeing it again I felt it might have been overturned by VAR – but it wasn’t.
“I feel for Denmark in that respect because it’s terrible losing a semi-final in that way. It was unfortunate, and we wouldn’t have been happy had we lost it that way.
John Barnes Exclusive: Sterling’s pace could trouble Italy’s defence in the final
“The final is a 50/50, there isn’t a favourite. Italy haven’t lost in over 30 games and have played well. They were playing a very attacking style in the Euros but in their semi-final, Spain were better in terms of possession. Italy then relied on their defence.
“If Italy have a weakness, it’s the age and mobility of their centre-backs, Leonardo Bonucci is 34 and Giorgio Chiellini is 36, although, they’re experienced, strong, and they don’t panic. If you consider Sterling’s pace, they’re not the quickest – he could exploit that.
“This is a one-off game. If England are poor, they could win or they could play well and lose. It’s going to be a tight game and I’m excited.
“You can never quite tell what type of game it will be. We’ve seen games finish 4-3, and others that have been 1-0. Whatever the quality level, or number of chances, it will be exciting. It’s a final and there will be atmosphere and intensity.
“Gareth Southgate left his substitutions late against Denmark and whether he does the same in the final will depend on the game’s flow. If England are 3-0 down, he’ll make changes earlier than if they’re winning 3-0 or drawing 1-1. You can’t pre-determine changes. You have to wait and see.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Joe Willock and Jesse Lingard must decide whether it’s worth fighting for their place or go somewhere else and get regular football
“Joe Willock’s loan move to Newcastle worked out well. Now, he must choose if he should go back to Arsenal and stake a claim for a first-team place or play first-team football at Newcastle. He won’t get in Arsenal’s first eleven, if he wants regular football, he must consider staying at Newcastle.
“Jesse Lingard is in a similar position after his spell at West Ham. That doesn’t mean he’s going to go back to Manchester United and be in the team. He won’t get in ahead of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Leeds is the right place for Kalvin Phillips for now
“Kalvin Phillips has impressed for England but that doesn’t mean he should move on from Leeds. Leeds can give him what he wants, they’re a top half Premier League club. The top two or three clubs may not be interested in him, so Leeds is the right place for now.
“People suggest signing players off the back of a good Euros, such as Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, but you don’t sign players following four good matches. You reflect over a longer period.
“Kalvin Phillips has had six good months, so let him develop and see what happens. Many young players make moves early in their careers, who then aren’t consistent over time.
“It also depends on which clubs would want a player like Kalvin. Manchester City probably wouldn’t because they favour more technical players like Kevin De Bruyne, whereas maybe Liverpool would.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Liverpool don’t require anymore signings this summer
“Liverpool being cash strapped because of Covid-19 may not be an issue this summer. If they don’t lose any players through injury or transfers, they don’t need to sign anyone.
“They brought in Diogo Jota and Thiago last season and signed Ibrahima Konate. Plus, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are coming back. Liverpool know their best players, so they don’t need to make signings or to promote from within, unless they get into an injury situation like last season.
“There will be the odd occasion when players like Harry Wilson and Harvey Elliott need to come into the side, as Nat Phillips and Neco Williams did this season. If they are playing for three months that’s probably not what you want, but two or three games is manageable.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Manchester City have shown they can cope without Aguero
“Pep Guardiola stated Manchester City are being priced out of a replacement for Sergio Aguero, but they don’t need one. Aguero hardly played, and they still won the league, a cup, and reached the Champions League final.
“Gabriel Jesus was part of that and can take Aguero’s place in the side. It’s a question of whether or not City want a classic No.9, which Jesus isn’t.”
John Barnes Exclusive: If Bale retires from club football, he can’t play for Wales
“If Gareth Bale retires from club football, he can’t play for Wales. End of story.
“Who is he going to be playing to warrant a call-up for Wales? How many goals will he be scoring? How well will he be playing? Even if he doesn’t retire from club football until the end of next season, don’t forget the World Cup next year isn’t until the winter.
“You can’t retire from club football and play international football. If he wanted to play for Reunion Island, then maybe, but you can’t not have a club and play for countries like Wales.
“I know he’s their talisman, but it doesn’t make sense, because after the season finishes you’ve got six months. If you haven’t played for six months, who are you training with? He has to be at a club to play for his country.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Raheem Sterling has been England’s best player
“Raheem Sterling has done really well at the Euros, he’s been England’s best player. You could say he’s had that attitude playing for England because it hasn’t gone as well as he would like for Manchester City, where he’s been on the bench. So he’s had something to prove.
“International football has given him a bit of respite, where he can play regularly and be one of the main players. Whereas when he was doing that for Manchester City, maybe he wasn’t doing so well for England. His lack of game time for City has really helped him to focus on doing well for England.
“His goalscoring record at the Euros has been impressive, because Raheem is never going to be a 30-goal-a-season man. He will score goals because of the way he plays and the way England and Manchester City play, but I don’t expect him all of sudden to be that sort of player. However, he will be a valuable member of the team by creating goals, alleviating the pressure, being creative and scoring his fair share.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Rice and Phillips are the key men for England in the final
“Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will be the key men for England if they are to have a chance of winning on Sunday – just as they have been throughout the tournament.
“They’ve been underestimated. Everyone is looking at Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, the attacking players, but the two holding midfield players have really protected the back four, which is why England have conceded only one goal. They do all the unseen work – like Marco Verratti and Jorginho do for Italy.
“Football is about having a balance of defence and attack. Rice and Phillips supplement the attack by allowing the creative players to get the ball in the right areas, and also by protecting the back four. From England’s perspective, those two have been the outstanding influence.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Italy have a 50:50 chance – the same as England
“Italy’s chances in the final are 50:50, just like England’s. Italy haven’t lost in 30 games – and I’m sure they would probably have liked to lose a group game, because the longer you go without losing, the more the next game is likely to be the one you will lose.
“You’re going to lose one sooner rather than later, so I’m sure they would have liked to get a loss out of the way. Italy haven’t even been behind in a match for two years, but that run is going to end as well – hopefully this Sunday!”
John Barnes Exclusive: Spain should not abandon their playing style
“Spain’s slow, possession-based playing style isn’t outdated. They got to a Euros semi-final and should have beaten Italy.
“They were the better team – surprisingly, because Italy had been dominating possession and playing really well. So that style is not outdated, they just couldn’t finish.
“Having balance is always good, playing their type of football, being strong and physical and more direct. You must play to what your strengths are. If you look at a team like the Czech Republic, they don’t play that way because that’s not their strength – but I don’t think Spain have an issue.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Dani Olmo had a better tournament than Pedri, but that doesn’t mean he’s a better player
“It’s not easy to compare Dani Olmo and Pedri because Olmo is more of a No.10, who plays as a second striker, whereas Pedri played as a midfielder at the Euros.
“Olmo had more of an effect at the tournament, but you can’t judge players on two or three games and say that because he played better in them, that he’s better than Pedri, who is a fantastic player and has had a great season.
“Olmo probably had a better Euros, but that doesn’t mean he’s better than Pedri.”
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