Ahead of the weekend which sees Liverpool facing arch-rivals Manchester United in the Premier League, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool midfielder shared his thoughts on the Dayot Upemecano rumours linking him to Anfield, Dele Alli needing to leave Spurs and Celtic’s chaotic trip to Dubai.
John Barnes Exclusive: Thiago offers something different in midfield
“It’s not a new way of playing for Liverpool just because they brought Thiago in, last season they dominated every single game in the league with possession. Except maybe when they played against Manchester City as they did take the lion’s share of the ball.
It didn’t surprise me to see him (Thiago) involved against Aston Villa as these are the games when you have 70 or 80% possession. Those games are made for Thiago.
When you play against teams who are going to try and have as much possession as Liverpool do, you may need a more defensive midfield player in the middle of the pitch. The likes of Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum etc. These are the kind of games where Thiago might not play.
You can properly look at the games, who they’re playing against, whether they feel they’re going to be in a dominating position and whether it is a sensible decision to play him. I’ve said all along, since the start of the season, it didn’t surprise me when he came on against Chelsea and they were down to 10 men, Liverpool knew they were going to dominate possession and he is so effective when it comes to dictating play.
He’s a fantastic player and gives Liverpool the option in terms of playing differently with his creativity in midfield, particularly when teams defend deep in numbers whereby, they’re in tight spaces.
He’s our best midfield player (Liverpool), but not every game is going to be like that. If it’s an open game, whereby you need a stronger runner like Wijnaldum or Henderson to break forward without the ball because there’s lots of space, maybe you don’t play him.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Dayot Upemecano would be a great signing for Liverpool
“All top teams are looking at him (Dayot Upemecano), and the reason being is he’s one of the centre backs in the world. It would have been better had he been available now in January, because at the end of the season we might not need a centre back or have the problems that we have now.
If we sign a centre back now for just short term, we then have another centre back, alongside all the other central backs that are going to be available next season. I feel that if any top player becomes available, any team will be looking at him, not just Liverpool. `
It’s the same with Koulibaily at Napoli he’s one wanted by a lot of other clubs also. But yes, Upemecano would be a great signing for Liverpool. He’s young, very talented and the right profile of player we should be looking at. It would be a good signing if we can get him of course, as there will be many other teams after him as well.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Jurgen Klopp speaks about fixtures to deflect pressure from his players
“Jurgen Klopp will have looked at that game and saw it as a big deal, it’s a FA Cup match and you don’t want to take any chances. Maybe he’ll rest players in the league, we really don’t know.
All managers are going to complain about fixture congestion and players’ tiredness and stuff like that. It’s an unusual year with COVID. Top teams are better placed than the smaller sides with smaller squads to deal with playing so many games in one season.
So as much as you know he may be outwardly complaining I’m sure he won’t be making any excuses internally to the players or within the club, because that will give players excuses not to perform, or feeling entitled to live up to the game. Sir Alex Ferguson was great at speaking to the media, because he would speak them and deflect any pressure from his players when they were playing.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Liverpool are not in direct competition with Manchester United
“Liverpool are not in direct competition with Manchester United in my opinion. Liverpool are only in competition with Manchester City for the title. There is of course competition because it’s Liverpool vs Manchester United and all of the history that comes with it, they are the two biggest clubs in the Premier League.
But in reality, in terms of the favourites to win the league, it is whoever finishes higher than Liverpool or Manchester City.
It’s good for Manchester United that even after getting knocked out of the League Cup by or not progressing in the Champions League that they’re actually managing some consistency in the league.
But of course, that can change if they (Manchester United) lose one or two matches because we still understand that the harmony of Manchester United isn’t completely right. There are question marks about Pogba, is Ole the right manager for them, we still aren’t sure. If Manchester United really wanted to make a big push, they should all get behind the manager and support the cause, because they haven’t done that. Bad news stories have to stop coming out to Manchester United for them to maintain further consistency.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Manchester United need harmony if they want consistency
“Well, it’s hard to anticipate what is going to happen to Manchester United in the league, and we can only go by what’s happened in the past, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won his first thirteen games as Manchester United manager and then we saw what happens. From a negative point of view, you can look at it that way. But Manchester United have to get over that and not feel that this isn’t going to be the case this time
The good thing for Manchester United, in all the first 13 games of Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign was that they were that were playing well, that’s why they won those games. Then when they (Manchester United) stopped playing well, they started to lose.
Whereas what they’ve done this year, even when they haven’t played well, they’ve ended up getting results and winning games. That’s a really good sign, because they’re great players, and when they play well, they can win.
If this continues, I feel that they can make a push for the title. With regards to all the upheaval still at Manchester United in terms of players leaving, bad attitudes in the dressing room, this could also have a big impact on their form towards the end of the season.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Timo Werner will come good at Chelsea
“When players come from other leagues, they have to get used to the way that the team plays and how other players operate in a league. You have to give them time to settle. Thierry Henry took 10 games before he scored his first goal for Arsenal, and he was amazing for Arsenal. Time Werner Needs time, because he’s a good player.
He’s not playing in a different position than he did last season at Leipzig where he scored all his goals. He was a number nine when he scored all the goals in Germany and also operated on the left-hand side where he would run at defenders. It’s not really happened for him at the moment. He’s got great potential and is a fantastic player with a great attitude, I hope it works out for him. He just needs to get used to a different way of playing, culture and footballing environment, then the goals will come for him.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Dele Alli needs to leave spurs
“If Dele Alli doesn’t think he is going to get regular football at Tottenham, then he should absolutely leave Spurs to try and get into the euros this summer. He may feel that he wants to stay and fight for his place. I don’t know the situation, but it’s got nothing to do with his ability, because he’s a good player
Of course, there seems to be an issue and a clash of characters between himself and Jose Mourinho. But if he feels as though he should go and that he’s not going to be given an opportunity at Tottenham, he should do what he can to try and get a move away.
What happens with a lot of players is in a situation like this, they’ll ride it out, because of managers come and go. Dele Alli may feel that the Mourinho, or maybe even the new manager that will come and he could start in the next month.
However, in this situation it doesn’t look as though Mourinho will be going anywhere for the next couple of years, so a move away from Tottenham seems to make the most sense at the moment.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Arsenal can’t offload Willian, he’s a reflection of Arsenal’s inconsistency
“I don’t think they’re going to offload [Willian]. No one was going to give him a three-year contract, but they did. It hasn’t worked for him at the moment, but he’s a very good player and I like the way he plays.
He’s just a reflection of Arsenal’s inconsistency. Arsenal aren’t playing extremely well, so I don’t know why we’re looking at him. It’s not just his problem.
Now, as much as the young players have come in and done well, are they going to do that all season, rather than dipping in and out? So, he still has a big role at Arsenal, as far as I’m concerned.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Nicolas Pepe needs time at Arsenal
“He [Nicolas Pepe] has not been there long, and when you have players coming in with a big price tag, getting used to a new team and adjusting to a new environment, you have to give them time.
Have Arsenal turned the corner? They’ve done really well in the last few games but if they lose the next two, it could go back to the way it was before. So, you have to keep supporting.
Pepe can’t be a bad player. They have to get a style, system and environment that suits them and then I’m sure you’ll see – because you’ve seen glimpses of it – that they’ll be okay.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Emile Smith Rowe has done nothing so far
“Well first of all, he [Emile Smith-Rowe] is not going anywhere. It’s not as if, if you don’t give him a contract, he’s going to get a transfer to a bigger club than Arsenal. That’s not going to happen. [Giving him a new contract] is not necessarily a priority but you want to reward people who have done well, but he’s going to be at Arsenal regardless of whether he’s tied to a new deal or not.
You also have to be very careful in how you handle him but I’m not saying he’s anything like Mesut Özil when it comes to signing a new contract.
What’s important for him is that he learns his trade and performs consistently. Once he’s shown that, then that is the time to talk about new contracts. Because he’s really done nothing – he’s had three or four good games. You don’t get a new contract off the back of that.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Celtic were always going to get criticised for Dubai for their form alone
“[Celtic’s trip to Dubai] is a PR disaster because of the way it’s been reported. They’re saying they had clearance to go, but when you’re 21 points behind Rangers, you’re going to get criticised for everything you do.
Now, obviously the optics of it – when you’re talking about sitting by the pool and drinking beer – he [Scott Brown] was there to train. Of course, when you’re having a rest, you’re allowed to drink beer. He could sit outside a pub drinking beer on a Wednesday afternoon in Glasgow. But they are doing what they are allowed to do.
Unfortunately for Celtic, anything they do, people will blame that for them not winning matches or being behind Rangers. But that’s not the reason why.
People are at home and can’t go on holiday, but they weren’t on holiday – they were there to train. If no rules were broken, then they were allowed to be there.
Someone has got coronavirus, but people who stayed in Scotland and didn’t go all the way to Dubai can also get it. If one person got it in Dubai or five people got it in Scotland, what’s the difference? The question is whether they were actually doing something wrong from the protocol point of view.”
John Barnes Exclusive: The league is more or less over for Celtic
“I think [the league is over for Celtic] more or less. If Celtic had beaten Rangers and were playing them three more times, with games in hand, then that would have been a possibility.
But the thing with Rangers now is that, even when they don’t play particularly well, they get the result. They’ve been playing well, don’t get me wrong, but even when they haven’t, they’ve got the result.
Even if Celtic can go on a run of games, it doesn’t look like Rangers are going to drop points. They’re playing with a level of belief, aside from the quality of their performance. The gap is too great for Celtic to catch.”
John Barnes Exclusive: It’s too early for Steven Gerrard to think about managing Liverpool
“If Klopp were to leave now, would they want someone with more experience? If he were to leave next season and Steven Gerrard is 20 points behind Celtic, are they going to want him? So, you have to wait and see.
There are no guarantees that when Klopp leaves, Steven will come in. Look at Lampard: all of a sudden, people are talking about his job being under pressure when they were saying he was the right man for the job. Now they’re saying he’s not!
Steven has had the support and backing at Rangers to get it right. He’s a football man and he understands football, and it could be a marriage made in heaven [to have him as Liverpool manager] because he would be given the time and support at Liverpool as well. But it’s too early to say what could happen two or three years down the line.”
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