As the hectic winter schedule of Premier League fixtures ramps up, we caught up with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool and England midfielder shared his thoughts on Liverpool’s squad depth, players being vaccinated, and why fans shouldn’t blame Rafa Benitez for Everton’s poor form.
John Barnes Exclusive: Liverpool can’t improve their squad this January
“Liverpool’s injury situation last year was unique. It was mostly the defenders who were injured. That in turn, messed up the midfield because [Jordan] Henderson and Fabinho had to fill in at the back, but they don’t have that problem anymore.
“There’s no point buying players for the sake of it and Jurgen Klopp doesn’t want to do that, unless they can get a player like Diogo Jota who can come in and challenge for a starting place. Liverpool have faith in their squad to cope when the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané go to the African Cup of Nations.
“If someone is available who adds to the squad then Liverpool should move for them, but no team will get a superstar player this January.
“If an injury crisis arises, Liverpool will look at players they can bring in but without spending a lot of money.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Nat Phillips should leave Liverpool in search of first team football
“If Nat Phillips wants first team football it’ll be away from Liverpool. He won’t start ahead of the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip or Ibrahim Konaté. He’s not that young anymore and he has to decide whether he wants to stake a claim for regular first team football elsewhere.
“Often it depends on the individual. Some players are happy being part of a squad and playing when necessary, whereas some prefer to drop down a level and play regularly. I fully respect him if that’s what he chooses.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Everton’s injuries to key players to blame for their form, not Rafa Benitez
“Everton aren’t at serious threat of relegation. They’ve had a poor last month or so, but people are quick to judge Rafael Benítez, without taking into account their horrendous injury situation.
“Yerry Mina has only just come back, having been injured for a while. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been missing up front with Richarlison, and the two of them play with spirit and bring plenty to the team.
“Once Benitez gets everyone fit, then we can judge him, because the situation with the players they’ve got missing make it difficult for any manager.
“It’s particularly hard for Rafa because he has a Liverpool connection which makes it tougher for him than for others.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Atletico Madrid is a nicer tie than PSG due to Manchester United’s defensive frailties
“Both Paris Saint-Germain and Atlético Madrid would be hard games. From an attacking viewpoint, in terms of being put under defensive pressure, PSG are more dangerous. They have a superior attacking line, who are relentless. They have top players, and as a team, Manchester United don’t defend collectively.
“Atlético Madrid have players who work hard all over the pitch so they [United] will come under less pressure and that will suit them better. Both are hard games, but Atlético is the better tie.
“That said, it’ll be harder to break Atlético down than it would PSG. It’s swings and roundabouts really.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Rangnick could be another Solskjær, and United can’t make the same mistake again
“Manchester United have made a solid start under Ralf Rangnick but they’ve still lost games. Look at the game against Norwich – who are probably the worst team in the league – they [Norwich] could have scored three or four goals.
“United shouldn’t think that just because they got the result, everything will be okay. That’s the mistake they made with Solskjær. Results were okay, but performances were poor. If they continue playing the way they did against Norwich, they will not win matches.
“We shouldn’t get lulled into a false sense of security that everything is all hunky dory. Rangnick will look at the performances and realise that they won’t win games because teams will score against them.
“Ralf knows what he has to do, and must tweak things. The top three places are already secure but Manchester United, Tottenham, West Ham and Arsenal will all be competing for fourth.”
John Barnes Exclusive: West Ham can finish above inconsistent Arsenal, Spurs and Man United
“When we talk about getting in the top four, we mean fourth place. We know which teams will finish in the top three – Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
“West Ham will feel they have a chance of coming fourth. Not just because they have a good team, but because Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United are inconsistent and they’re in transitional periods.
“West Ham must play at the top of their game if they want that fourth spot.
“To win the league, it’s not about beating Liverpool and Man City, it’s about beating everyone else. To finish fourth is the same. Avoiding relegation isn’t about beating the big boys, it’s about getting points off the others. West Ham are no different to any other club in that respect. They must simply focus on beating everyone else.”
John Barnes Exclusive: There are no players Newcastle can realistically bring in to save them from relegation
“There are no realistic names for Newcastle to buy in January that might save them. There are no superstar players going anywhere, especially not to Newcastle. They might have a lot of money, but they can’t spend it in January because of their league position.
“None of the top players will go to Newcastle before the season’s end. Newcastle must work with what they have, and they have to stop conceding goals.
“They have decent enough players. As soon as the Mike Ashley situation resolved itself, people assumed automatically that everything would fall into place, but that’s not the reality.
“They can forget about the euphoria of being the richest club in the world.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Newcastle’s continued poor performances prove it wasn’t just down to Steve Bruce or Mike Ashley
“Newcastle’s form proves that it’s not all Steve Bruce or Mike Ashley’s fault. You need to have the right squad harmony, togetherness, and confidence. Their confidence has taken a beating over the last couple of years – and that isn’t going to change overnight.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Football is secondary to COVID-19 and people’s lives
“I don’t know the scientific protocols that the government use, so it’s hard to say if the Premier League will pause again due to COVID-19. No one knows the true situation, and how things might change come January, February, or even next week.
“I wouldn’t like to see a break in the league, or games behind closed doors, but the clubs and the government will make the right decision. When it comes to COVID and people’s lives, football is secondary.
“It’s not what we want to see but I can’t say whether play will be suspended.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Players aren’t role models to children. Vaccination is a choice, but every player should get it
“Players aren’t role models and examples, they’re normal human beings. Why should they be a role model to anyone else?
“I look at myself as a parent and a member of society and think that we should all be role models particularly when something like this happens, which has nothing to do with football.
“Footballers can’t get people to do anything. We over-exaggerate how powerful footballers are in big situations like this.
“Individuals have a right to do what they want. I am vaccinated and I believe that everyone should be. I have two children working in the NHS so from my perspective, it’s the right thing to do. But I won’t lecture anybody on what they should do.
“I trust the scientists, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and my kids are doctors. I’m not about to criticise anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated, although I do think they should.”
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