‘A Sit Down with John Barnes’ – 25th November 2021

Ahead of the next set of Premier League fixtures this weekend, we caught up with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool midfielder shared his thoughts on Harry Maguire’s captaincy at Manchester United, Arsenal’s lack of leaders in the dressing room and Ole’s sacking being a blessing in disguise.

John Barnes Exclusive: Trent Alexander-Arnold’s return to form is due to the return of Van Dijk

“Trent Alexander-Arnold is back to his best thanks to the players he’s playing with! When you are missing certain players, that affects the whole team. Last season they had two key central defenders missing. But now that they have those two central defenders back, the full backs can do what they normally do. 

“Missing two central defenders also affected the way the midfield played, and that is why Liverpool finished third last year rather than challenging for the league.

“Now they have their full-strength squad, it suits everybody, and we can see the fullbacks doing what they do, and the strikers too, because the team is as it should be. If they lose those centre backs again, Trent won’t necessarily continue what he’s been doing over the course of the first 14 games of the season, because it affects the way the team plays. 

“That is how comprehensive Liverpool is. Having the first team out there positively effects everybody.

“Klopp hasn’t done anything but it’s just that the team is now suited to him, whereas last year, because of the injuries, it probably didn’t.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Alexander-Arnold is the best attacking right back in the league 

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“Trent Alexander-Arnold is the best attacking right back in the league, but we saw against West Ham that Liverpool have defensive frailties.

“It depends on what you want from your fullbacks. If you want an attacking full back to play well and not worry about defending, then he is the best right back. The way Liverpool play, and for what they need him to do, his style suits them. He can improve defending, but the way Liverpool play, it’s not that necessary. So, I would say he’s the best attacking right back.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Allison is one of the best ‘keepers in the world

“Allison is up there with the best ‘keepers in the world. Once upon a time Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were the best players and that was undoubted. Whereas now, we don’t know who the best player in the world because there are so many players vying for it, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. 

“From a goalkeeping perspective it’s similar. Gianluigi Donnarumma is a fantastic ‘keeper as we’ve seen, so is Eduouard Mendy from Chelsea which makes it hard to definitively say who is the best, but Allison is up there as one of the best.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Ole’s sacking is a blessing in disguise for him

“Even if Ole Gunnar Solskjær had left before the international break, they wouldn’t have been able to get Mauricio Pochettino or Erik Ten Hag. In fact, they wouldn’t have seen any manager come in and I still don’t see a manager coming in in the next couple of weeks. 

“Hindsight is a great thing. If they had beaten Watford 5-0, would they have sacked him? They were right not to sack him before the international break, and they should have waited until the end of the season because they’re not going to get who they really want until then.

“Pochettino won’t leave PSG before the end of the season so if that’s who they want, they won’t be able to get him until the summer, so why sack Solskjær now?

“There’s some respite for Solskjær now and some relief in many respects, because it was just waiting to happen. Even if United had won the next week and then lost the following week, it would’ve been up and down. He’s a nice person and deserves better than the treatment he’s been getting. 

“It’s a blessing in disguise that he’s actually done now because he can go away and relax, spend time with his family and recharge his batteries.”

 John Barnes Exclusive: Zinedine Zidane turned down United as he wants to win easily

“Zinedine Zidane not wanting to come to Manchester United has nothing to do with United. Zidane doesn’t want to go to a club which is not the best, the most powerful and the richest. There’s a rebuilding project at Manchester United and right now, they’re worse than Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. If he went to United, he would have a different proposition compared to that of Real Madrid or PSG who have much more money than everybody else. 

“He’s not the type of manager to go and build something. He wants to go somewhere where they have the most money with the best players and he doesn’t have to coach them – that’s what happened Real Madrid. 

“It’s not a question of Zidane turning down United for any other reason, and I’m not surprised that he doesn’t want to go to United in contrast to Pochettino, who can work with players and make the team better. Zidane doesn’t do that; he goes to a club which is already the best and has the best players. If a club needs a manager to turn the team around, Zidane is not that type of manager. 

“It’s not a slight on Manchester United, Zidane just doesn’t do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pochettino came to United and Zidane went to PSG at the end of the season. PSG will win the league with or without Zidane, but United need more than just a figurehead, they need someone to come in and work.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Manchester United’s dressing room doesn’t have the same egos as PSG – it would be perfect for Pochettino 

“Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t going to be at Manchester United for much longer, he might not even be there next year, the same with Paul Pogba. Therefore, United don’t have the same dressing room egos as PSG. Also, the players at PSG are the best by some distance and are used to winning the league all the time. No matter how they perform, they’re always going to win. They’re much stronger than United in that sense. 

“The manager will have more power at United than at PSG. Pochettino wants to imprint his style on his club and that is what Manchester United need. At PSG, they don’t need that because they’re going to win everything anyway. 

“United are now at the point where they would have to give all the power to Pochettino and allow him to make any decision he wants he wants, whether that’s dropping Ronaldo, or even selling him or Pogba but he needs to be given the power.” 

John Barnes Exclusive: Ronaldo should be dropped for the benefit of the team

“Manchester United need to prioritise the team, not the individual. If Ronaldo is scoring goals but the team are losing, he’s a part of that. You need players to run around when they’re not scoring. There’s no point scoring one and conceding two. That’s why the balance of the team should be important. The way Ronaldo is playing in terms of his goal scoring is fantastic but when they don’t have the ball, he’s part of a front four who don’t work defensively. 

“There’s no point saying that just because he’s scoring goals, we’re happy with him. If you’re losing games, the person who’s scoring a lot of goals is part of the reason why you’re not defending well.

“Manchester United can’t afford to have Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood or Marcus Rashford on the pitch at the same time as they aren’t going to work defensively, because they might score two goals, but they’ll concede more. The balance of the team is the most important thing.”

 John Barnes Exclusive: Harry Maguire is the right man for the United captaincy

“Harry Maguire is absolutely the right man to be Manchester United captain. He’s playing in a back four that aren’t being protected. If Liverpool’s front three didn’t work as hard off the ball, the back four would also struggle. 

“It’s not about any individual defender because Harry Maguire is a good defender, as are Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw. But the problem is, they’re just being left to defend when the rest of the team doesn’t apart from Fred and Scott McTominay who also need more hard done work in front of them. So, I don’t criticise Maguire at all because he’s a good defender for Manchester United and England but the way the team is playing, he’s being left to defend on his own which he can’t do so I don’t blame him at all.

John Barnes Exclusive: Arsenal have a weak mentality

“Arsenal need to change their mentality. We saw in the first half against Liverpool, when they’re playing with fight, aggression, discipline and belief. They went one down to a free kick, but once they conceded the second, they went to pieces. 

“That has been Arsenal’s problem over the last few years. When things are going well, you can see them being a good side but how you face adversity makes a team. With teams like Liverpool and Manchester City, when they’re not playing well, they hang in during games and they have the belief and the determination that they can go on to win. 

“It’s the mentality which will take time to build because since Arsene Wenger left, it’s been too easy for Arsenal to lose as the players are never going to get the blame. It’s always been the fault of the manager, and it was the same with Mikel Arteta when he first joined. 

“It will take time for their mentality and their resilience to be built up because they haven’t had to have that in the last three or four years, as the players have never been blamed for losing, it’s always been the manager. 

“Arsenal have good young players and if they stick with them in the future, and with Arteta, they will be more resilient and develop a better attitude to adversity, but it could be some time before they get to where they want to be.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Aubameyang doesn’t help the team and doesn’t step up when needed

“With Alexandre Lacazette supposedly leaving, they’re going to have to find a new striker. However, before the Liverpool game, they were fine. As much as they weren’t scoring, they were winning matches and were pushing up the league.

“But if they’re not scoring goals and they’re not defending and working hard for the team, that’s when it becomes a problem. It’s like Roberto Firmino at Liverpool. He doesn’t score many goals, but we all know his value to the team so if a striker isn’t scoring goals, they must contribute in another way. But with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, if he’s not scoring goals, what else is he doing? 

“While that may have been okay in the last ten games, in the second half against Liverpool, when the team is under pressure and struggling, that’s when the leaders have to come to the fore. I can’t see that changing so they would need to change the personnel instead.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Arsenal have no leaders in the dressing room

“Arsenal haven’t got any leaders in the squad. They have a young team with new players and the new players are going to be the leaders and the young players aren’t necessarily going to be the leaders as you don’t want to put that pressure on them. 

“It has to be an established player, who’s been there for a while. It’s going to take time to find a player who will have been there for a long time before they become a leader. They’ll have to wait for one of their youngsters to become more senior.

“At the moment it’s really Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who should be the leader and if he’s not leading, then where else is that leadership going to come from when things aren’t going well.

“They haven’t got that the moment and it’s difficult to buy. You have to give them time to develop that and I’m sure Arteta will.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Now Gerrard has left, the Scottish title will be more closely contested

“Regardless of Steven Gerrard’s departure to the Premier League, the Scottish Premier League was always going to be more closely contested than last season, which is clear with Celtic only being four points behind Rangers. 

“However, there may be some pressure lifted off Celtic by Gerrard leaving, because of the demand that he may have put on the Rangers players. Now with a new manager, whether Giovanni van Bronckhorst will demand the same from his players remains to be seen. 

“The Rangers players are still good enough to win the league this season and the new manager will definitely help them try to do that, but the defeat last weekend was most likely the players taking their foot off the gas. 

“I have no doubt that they will be challenging with Celtic for the title come the end of the season, but right now it’s simply teething problems which every team has under a new manager.”


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