Following midweek Champions League action and ahead of an exciting weekend in the Premier League, we’ve spoken to BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former England and Liverpool winger shared his thoughts on how Liverpool need to respond to the injury of Virgil van Dijk, Donny van De Beek not fitting in to Manchester United’s plans, and Manchester City’s recent striker crisis.
John Barnes Exclusive: Arsenal look so much better than two or three years ago, Partey makes all the difference
“Currently, Arsenal are a lot stronger in defence than they were last season. The signing of Thomas Partey is a big factor in that as they look to find the balance of the team and his role of shielding the back four and the transition of defence into attack. Even though they haven’t scored many goals this season, it doesn’t mean that the team has weak attacking players.
“The reason they aren’t scoring many goals is because it’s a strange season with everything that is going on. You look at Liverpool losing 7-2 to Aston Villa and Leicester beating Arsenal 0-1, I don’t really take much consideration into what is happening on the pitch at this moment in time. Arsenal have a good structured process under Mikel Arteta now and look a much better team than previously in the last two to three seasons, they aren’t too far off the top four currently so I think they will be fine this season.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Managers are more likely to stay in a job because of the impact of Coronavirus
“Managers will be given more time in their respective jobs because of coronavirus and the strange results that are happening and will continue to happen in the Premier League. By Christmas, I feel that the league will form more to how we’re normally used to, and you’ll see the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United towards the top of the league along with all the relegation candidates taking shape.
“In this uncertain time with the first few months of the season, we are being a little bit more forgiving in terms of judging managers or teams too harshly or too positively. For example, no one is thinking that Aston Villa are going to finish the league in the top six, but we’ll see how things play out.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Liverpool must ignore Van Dijk’s void in the team and not let it affect their winning philosophy
“Losing a player like Virgil van Dijk is a huge loss for Liverpool but it depends on how much the team focusses on losing him for this season. If they spend too much time thinking about playing without him, then it will naturally become a negative factor. I remember when I was playing, whenever big players got injured it was always the Liverpool philosophy that the team is the most important thing, which is something that Jurgen Klopp has brought back.
If a big player got injured, no matter who they were, the staff didn’t even speak to him, which may sound cruel but that’s just how it was. I say this with love and with affection for all the staff, at Liverpool the whole philosophy was no matter who you if you’re injured, you can’t help the team to win the game on Saturday so they don’t focus on you at all. I found it so strange when I first went to Liverpool because I remember my first injury and I’m doing really well and all of a sudden, they do not talk to you.
“This must be the attitude that the club takes with [Virgil] Van Dijk. If they focus too much on his injury, it can affect the players and it will become a big deal that he isn’t playing. We of course miss him and rate him very highly, but he’s not around and we need to deal with that.”
“It is too early to say whether Liverpool should look to bring in a new centre-back in the January transfer window as it has only been three games without Virgil van Dijk and the team hasn’t lost yet. If it comes to January and the team hasn’t conceded many goals and has won every game, then we (Liverpool) won’t need to bring in a new defender. We will have to see how Liverpool get on before jumping to conclusions that we need a new centre half.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Diogo Jota is not worthy of a start yet, but he’s putting pressure on the front three to perform
“At this moment in time, Diogo Jota would not get picked ahead of one of the front three players, but he is pushing for a starting place. If he keeps going the way he has started the season, he will put pressure on the three starting attackers – it’s a good thing to have competition for places.
“Before this season, if one of the front three was to get a long-term injury then you would start to worry as Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi weren’t good enough to replace them, but now with Jota coming in, I have full faith that he would come into the starting team and do equally as well as any of the current front three.”
“His price tag of £40m, it doesn’t make any difference, whether he is sitting on the bench or starting. People can complain about a £40m player sitting on the bench, but if you were to put him in the team and drop Mo Salah, then you have an £80m now sitting on the bench. If teams want a strong squad, that is the money that you have to spend to bring them in, so for me, his price tag is completely irrelevant.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Manchester City have a striker crisis, which is the reason for their strange start to the season
“Manchester City’s strange start to the season stems from their lack of fit strikers and not to do with their defence. Last year, when they were scoring plenty of goals, they were also still conceding goals and it was a defender crisis.
“Currently they have a striker crisis, they still play in the same way but don’t have their best strikers unavailable. They played last season without their main defender which meant they conceded goals but playing in the same way this season without any strikers means they won’t score as many goals; they have to be more creative. They play fantastic football and it all looks amazing but if you don’t have anyone to put the ball in the net, like a Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus, then they won’t score goals.
“When you look at the dynamic balance of Manchester City, they are a brilliant side. But currently, with two thirds of their team complete, they are lacking a striker in the final third. As soon as they can get Aguero and Jesus fit for a long period of time, they will be perfect. City aren’t a bad side without the strikers, because they are still an exceptional team, but having Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez as the furthest forward is difficult as they aren’t naturally this way inclined.
“The difference at is they have someone who likes to drop deep, Roberto Firmino. They still have Mo Salah and Sadio Mané who will score goals, whereas when Manchester City play are playing someone as the striker who isn’t a natural goal scorer.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Donny van de Beek does not fit at Manchester United, they should have signed Thomas Partey instead
“People assume that if you come from Ajax and cost £40m, then you are going to get a player like Johan Cruyff but is never going to happen. He will be a good player for United eventually, but they have to get the balance right in how they want to play and where he fits into that. Currently, Manchester United want to play pretty football by having lots of flair players, which he doesn’t fit into so now he is getting criticised by fans and pundits because that is not the way he plays.”
“At a team like United where everyone is so inconsistent, you are going to get judged when you aren’t a flair player. Someone like Bruno Fernandes who looks good even when the team isn’t playing well, won’t get criticised, but as van de Beek isn’t one of those players who will take the game by the scruff of the neck, he will get judged.”
“Manchester United are in need of a midfielder who will sit in front of the defence and protect them. United are at the stage now where they believe that they need players who, like Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, are great on the ball and very attack minded. However, with the way things are portrayed now, for £40m, if you aren’t doing something that is eye-catching, then you are considered a waste of money.
“Donny van de Beek is not a flair player like Pogba or Fernandes and can’t get people off their seats in the same way. Manchester United have conceded lots of goals already this season and could have done with a player like Thomas Partey. He would have made them much more defensively sound.”
John Barnes Exclusive: The best players will never choose Tottenham first and fans have to accept that
“People always talk about the attack and the defence playing well, but no one mentions the middle of the pitch which is the midfielders. Everyone assumes that defensive problems come from the defenders not playing well, but it stems from the defensive midfield players, and if they are good enough to protect the back four. If you have the perfect defensive midfield, then you don’t need a better defence as the protection is already there.
“Getting the balance right is important and knowing how pragmatic and cautious Jose Mourinho is, it’s interesting seeing him to try and play the ‘Tottenham way’ in terms of a free flowing attacking style. There is no doubt that the front three of Tottenham are very good, but the problem lies with the defensive midfielders as they aren’t protecting the defenders, which ultimately leaves the back four exposed and vulnerable to unfair criticism.
“I have no doubt that Jose Mourinho will get it right and he will bring the harmony to the club, but it is always up and down with Tottenham as it has been for so many years and they’re always going to have their problems, but by the end of the season, I still expect them to finish in the top five.”
“Every fan wants their team to have the best players, but it is never that easy because there are so many clubs trying to get the same top players. It’s even harder for Spurs because the best players would prefer to go to Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich before they go to Tottenham, so as much as the fans may want perfection, they have to accept that this is as good as they’ll have for now and they should enjoy it.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Everton should finish in the European places if they can keep their best players fit
“If Carlo Ancelotti can keep Everton’s main players fit this season and away from trouble, then they (Everton) could finish fifth or sixth this season, there is no reason why they can’t aim for that.
“No one is thinking that Everton will win the league, despite their strong start. The Southampton result wasn’t a great performance but it’s a one-off and they will get back to winning ways soon. If you take one or two of their starting players out of the team, they look like a much weaker team which showed at the weekend. When they have their starting team and the likes of André Gomes, Abdoulaye Doucourê, Allan, Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodríguez and the normal back four all playing, they look a strong side and will cause a lot of problems to most teams in the league. Despite their last two results, I expect Everton to be pushing for the top six in the Premier League.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Rangers are ready to challenge complacent Celtic for the title
“Steven Gerrard and Rangers didn’t end up challenging Celtic last season because Celtic are simply still better than them. Rangers have been playing catch up to Celtic over the last five seasons so regardless of the mistakes that Gerrard made last season, Celtic still would’ve gone on to win the league. Rangers played well for two-thirds of the season, but then it all caught up with them and Celtic took advantage. However, this season Rangers look stronger, Celtic have lost a few players so maybe they are getting complacent.
“A complacent Celtic over the last nine seasons would have easily won the league still, which they have done. With Rangers playing in the lower divisions for the first four seasons, and then finally coming back into the Premier Division, but have not been able to compete with Celtic, it’s not been easy. Each season they have got stronger and stronger and hungrier so this season, they will give it a good go. Celtic have been quite complacent over the years and that’s been enough for them to win the league, whereas this year it probably won’t be enough.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Celtic and Rangers are under pressure for the 10 in a row, it’s how they both deal with it which will be interesting
“There could be added pressure on Celtic to win the league for the 10th year in a row, but this also puts pressure on Rangers as they will be desperate not to let them win it again. When Celtic have all their players back and fit, then it will take a lot of hard work for Rangers to stop them, but currently, they are dealing with the pressure because they’re performing well. “It’s similar with PSG and them winning the French league so easily every year, when it comes to Champions League games, they struggle as they get complacent due to the lack of effort they need to put in each week in France. Rangers need to make sure that they capitalize on the complacency which they are starting to do because now they have better quality players so they are getting closer to Celtic – they need to make sure they keep it going and playing their football, and for Celtic, they need to try to get out of this funk they are currently in.”
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