Ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, we caught up with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool and England midfielder shared his thoughts on Declan Rice being the best holding midfielder in the Premier League, Manchester United’s inconsistency and Roberto Firmino deserving more appreciation.
John Barnes Exclusive: Mason Greenwood should start over Sancho and Rashford
“Marcus Rashford won’t become an automatic starter because he hasn’t had the best season so far. Of course, he came on and scored against Leicester, but we also have to look at how he’s going to fit in to the side as it seems as if the front three are going to be Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes and then they’ve really only got room for one more.
“There’s also Mason Greenwood, and above anyone else, he has been the one who’s really shown that he is on form ahead of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford. However, it all depends on how they play because there is talk about bringing in another midfield player to release Pogba further up the pitch too.
“As much as they’re very attacking, they need somebody alongside either Scott McTominay or Nemanja Matić and maybe have two holding midfielders because they don’t have a lot of defensive protection from whichever the attacking players play. It really depends on who they’re up against and how Ole [Gunnar Solskjær] feels that they should approach it.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Manchester United are so inconsistent, we don’t know whether they will turn up
“Liverpool vs Man United is never a forgone conclusion. And as we’ve seen, although Manchester United haven’t been playing well at all this season, they have individuals who can win games for them. They have the individual brilliance and as long as they have those players that can still cause a problem, they’ll always be dangerous.
“We know the performance level Liverpool are going to put in, but we don’t know which Manchester United are going to turn up. They could easily put in a fantastic performance and that’s where the inconsistency comes in. We really don’t know which Manchester United are going to turn up and, in many respects, that could be dangerous for Liverpool. But Liverpool won’t approach the game with any complacency and will still put in decent performance, it’s just a question of which Manchester United turns out.”
“The players raise their game for these big matches. Ole doesn’t do anything tactically to set them up differently against the big teams. It’s just the players like Pogba and Ronaldo who like to turn it on that helps them win big matches, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Beating Liverpool will change the perception of Ole Gunnar Solskjær
“The board are very supportive of Ole Gunnar Solskjær because it’s not as if they have been pulling up trees in the last two or three years that he’s been there. They have supported him and supporting your manager is the right thing to do.
“He’s built a good squad in terms of the players that they have, but he’s not necessarily blended them together at the moment. All of that aside, if they beat Liverpool, they’ll go one point off top so, so as much as they haven’t been playing well, the results haven’t been that bad.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Mo Salah is the best in Europe on current form
“It’s fair to say Mohamed Salah is best player in Europe on current form. We can look at Sadio Mané and other players who are doing really well so I don’t tend look at six or seven games and say whoever is playing well is the best in Europe.
“Salah doesn’t have to be the best player in Europe.
“What he has to be is part of a Liverpool team, helping them to the top of the league and that’s what he does. He’s happy with that. He’s humble enough to recognise that’s what people think about in terms of whether he’s the best player or not the best player in Europe but, that’s not his objective.
“The objective is to help Liverpool to win matches which is what he’s doing.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Firmino is better suited to Liverpool than any no.9 in the world and he deserves more appreciation
“Roberto Firmino’s return to form can absolutely help Liverpool win the league. The way he plays is the reason why Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané score all of their goals. Even when he’s not scoring himself, or not playing well, he still takes up great positions and puts hard work in. His intelligence and his willingness to work for them is the reason why they score a lot of goals.
“If Liverpool sign a centre-forward who scores 35 goals a season, Mo Salah is going to score significantly less. Firmino is adding to the squad and to the team in terms of his consistency in scoring goals, playing well, creating chances and working hard. He should be more appreciated.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Harry Kane will score goals, but we don’t know if his head is with Tottenham
“Whether Harry Kane can handle the pressure of scoring more goals at Tottenham remains to be seen. Obviously, he wanted to go, and he didn’t get his move so maybe he was disappointed and maybe that affected his performance but he’s a fantastic player and a great goal scorer.
“If everything remains the same, he will score goals. As much as he’s only scored one league goal so far, we’ll now see Harry Kane pushing on to score more goals, depending on where his head is in terms of not leaving Spurs when he wanted to. But I’m hoping it works out for him.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Declan Rice is the best holding midfielder in the League
“Declan Rice is the best holding midfielder in the league, Kalvin Phillips isn’t far behind, but we don’t have many English options. Jorginho won European player of the year and you could argue that he’d be the best.
“There’s also N’Golo Kanté and lots of other good European holding midfield players. We’re only now understanding the value in holding midfielders, and they are equally as important as those attacking midfield players. Rice is helping prove how important they are, especially to Gareth Southgate too. It’s about time holding midfielders got the respect they deserve.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Success won’t happen overnight for Newcastle
“Fans and pundits should not have expected Newcastle to start winning matches just because they’ve been taken over. Everything has been so negative for such a long time. They can’t just turn it on and off automatically. Things will still change.
Now that Steve Bruce has left and a new manager is going to come in, they won’t all of a sudden start winning matches week in week out. Maybe the euphoria, happiness and new manager bounce would help them to win more matches.
“They’re not going to become a great team overnight. It’s going to take time and Newcastle fans will give them time and patience. They’ll be patient, but they’re happy. Things will change, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll change so quickly.
“In fact, it is not going to change overnight. They have to be patient.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Newcastle is a work in progress, and it will take time before they can attract the big names
“It’s going to be a tricky season for Newcastle and there’s no guarantee that players will go there in the summer. In two or three years, like with Manchester City, when they have made that progression, maybe the best players in the world will think of Newcastle as a viable option because they will have that financial clout.
“However, if all the best players in the world are available this summer but they can go to Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona, that’s where they’ll go. If Newcastle show improvement over two or three years, which given their investment they certainly will, things will change. But it’s not certain to happen this summer.”
John Barnes Exclusive: UEFA take fighting more seriously than racism
“UEFA give more bans for fighting than they do for anything else. I know that a lot of the bans that those Eastern European teams have received has not been for racism but for fighting because it’s too difficult to prove racism.
“But if you look at what happened in the Euros with the excessive use of flares and for all the fighting and violence that happened in and around the stadium it’s not unexpected.”
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