Ahead of the weekend which sees Liverpool facing arch-rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup, we spoke with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool midfielder shared his thoughts on Thiago Alcantara criticism, Paul Pogba’s playing motivations and what Rangers will be focussing on despite Celtic’s results.
John Barnes Exclusive: Thiago is Liverpool’s best player; the team needs time to settle with him
“Every time Thiago Alcantara has played for Liverpool this season; he’s been the best player on the pitch. It just so happens that when he plays, the team hasn’t performed too well recently, which makes people think that it’s his fault. You must look at the way the team plays, and the fact that he’s going to be their main playmaker and it’s going to take time for the team to adapt to this.
When Thiago has the ball, he moves it so quickly, but because the back four try to give him the ball every time, the ball isn’t moving forward as quickly to the front three it should. He plays the ball quickly, but by the time he drops deep to collect the ball, those extra seconds have passed before the ball reaches the attacking players, which means the space and the time to get the ball is less. It was the exact same when Philippe Coutinho was at Liverpool, and the play always went through him every time too.
By bringing in Thiago and making him our (Liverpool’s) main playmaker, it will take time for the team to get used to the new game plan. It’s not a thing that the front three are suddenly bad players. When you play a midfield three of Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, they play the ball much quicker as a team, and Liverpool have been playing this way for a few seasons now.
Thiago has been our best player, and he’s a wonderful player to watch. But, if you change the way we play, then it’s going to take time for the team to adapt.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Liverpool should sign an experienced centre back in January
“The January transfer window is always a challenging time for teams to get their number one targets as clubs aren’t willing to give away their best players so easily. There is no long-term solution currently as we need to think about what to do for now. Fabinho and Jordan Henderson will not be playing centre back for the rest of the season, so Liverpool need to think about short-term solutions.
A short-term solution can be a very capable, experienced centre-back, who does not play for one of the top teams and might cost you £20m which is not a lot of money these days. That might be a possibility. We know that Dayot Upamecano and Kalidou Koulibaly, who are the players we (Liverpool) we really want but are not available right now.
If a short-term solution of a decent player for £20m is going to give you a better chance of winning the league, then Liverpool should be looking for that. I’m not saying Liverpool can’t win the league without bringing in someone new, because everyone is playing inconsistently and no one is making big signings, but if it enhances their chances to win the Premier League again, then they should do that.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Mohamed Salah wanting to stay past 2023 is not important
“It’s great to hear that Mohamed Salah wants to stay at Liverpool past his contract ending in 2023 and it’s reassuring for the fans, but similarly with the Georginio Wijnaldum situation, the player only wants to stay on his terms and what they want, which is not what a club will accept. Clubs are not going to be held to ransom by anybody, particularly a player in their 30s. However, if he wants to be at the club till at least 2023, then that’s good as it will mean that Salah will be at the club next season, and then the season after is all we need to worry about right now. But it’s good to see he is committed to the club for the foreseeable future.
Like the Wijnaldum situation, he was offered a two-year contract, but the player wants more money, and that and is the reason why he won’t sign the deal.
For me, Salah wants to stay past 2023 is not important. What’s important is that he’s here now and he wants to play.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Bruno Fernandes is not suited to play in games where Manchester United don’t have possession
“I don’t feel that Bruno Fernandes’ performance at Anfield was a sign that Manchester United are over playing him. We know that it is more a case, if United play a team like Liverpool who will dominate possession, attack more, defend better, then you’re not going to see the best of him. For me, the two central defensive midfield players, and the back four are the reason why they got a result against Liverpool, so they are going to be key for them in big games.
When they are not dominating possession, Manchester United are going to be less of an attacking threat to the opposition. You are not going to see Fernandes because that is what he gives you.
Depending on the game, most of the time he is playing advanced and in attacking areas while he’s been at Manchester United. When they are not, he is not a player who is going to be the star of the show.
From a Manchester United point of view, I would not worry about Bruno Fernandes as most of the time they are going to be on the ball, and you will see him being more creative than the opposition. However, there is always going to be odd game when he goes missing, particularly against teams who dominate possession.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Good performances from Pogba are what United fans want, whether he’ll be here in the summer or not
“What you want from a player while he is at the club is to be committed, and it has always been a question as to whether Paul Pogba is committed to Manchester United.
Performances are what you want too, whatever the reasons behind that may be. If he’s playing for a move and he continues to play well and score goals and do the right thing for the team, then fans won’t have a problem with that as long as his performances remain of a high standard. If he continues to play well, score goals, get assists and have a positive influence on the team then so be it. What you do not want is a player who is not happy, and who wants to leave, undermining the manager and not trying when it looks like he can. But Pogba is currently playing well and has been impressive, he’s giving 100% to the team which is all you can ask of currently. It’s interesting to see whether he’ll be here in the summer or not.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Thomas Partey is what Arsenal have needed for years
“As a player, Thomas Partey provides good protection to the back four but is not going to be positive influence on the team in the way of scoring goals, getting assists and looking particularly skillful like Bruno Fernandes does at Manchester United. Partey is a deep, hardworking defensive midfield player, there to break up play and give it to the more creative players in the team, Arsenal will get that from him, and he is what they have needed for so long now.
Partey had a good game against Newcastle, and looked decent in possession, but he will be a lot more valuable when Arsenal are playing against Manchester City and Liverpool, as these teams dominate possession and cause the defence problems.
It is good for Arsenal to have a player like this, as people have always said that Arsenal are a soft touch physically, and he gives them that physical edge that they really need. We know what a good side Arsenal are with wonderful young players like Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka, now with Thomas Partey they have the midfield steel to complement these flair players.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Ozil is a fantastic player, we can see magic moments from him in Turkey if he applies himself
“Mesut Ozil has not played consistently for a long time now and it is difficult to turn it on and off and get inspired to play, particularly at his age. His ability has never been in question, and he’s a phenomenal player, but it is the mentality which has not been right in his later stages for Arsenal.
If he has the right attitude and commitment, then I am sure he can put in some great performances for Fenerbahçe as he is a fantastic player. It all depends on how he approaches his time there, rather than thinking it is the end of his career, he has made his money and it is going to be a bit of a step down from the Premier League. He is a hero in Turkey, if his attitude is right, he can play anywhere in the world and be successful.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Celtic have been harshly treated for Dubai, but it’s not a surprise
“With Celtic, I am unsure as to whether they should be reprimanded for their trip to Dubai. Neil Lennon said he wasn’t going to apologise for the trip and having a beer at the hotel, because they broke no laws in doing so. There is nothing wrong with having a beer, but the fact of the matter is, they are losing matches, and if you lose matches, you are always going to get criticised.
Is he (Neil Lennon) helping himself because they’re not doing particularly well? Will alienate people, the press, and Scottish ministers by having a go at them all? He must do what he thinks is right. I feel they’ve been judged unfairly in some ways, but the whole incident has been highlighted because of their form, and how far they sit behind Rangers.
Lennon made his point that they checked they were able to go on a trip to Dubai, all the team were COVID tested and abided by social distancing rules professionally. Teams that have stayed in England have had lots of COVID cases, so it doesn’t mean that they got COVID cases purely from being in Dubai.
If Neil Lennon as a manager felt that the trip was what they needed to help them challenge Rangers, then that is up to him. A trip away in some warm weather, better facilities and good team bonding could have helped Celtic improve. He may feel that the trip was the right thing for them to do.”
John Barnes Exclusive: All Rangers will be thinking about is winning football matches
“All Rangers will be thinking about is winning football matches. They are not in control of what Celtic do and they know, regardless of chaos across the city or not, Celtic on any given day can put a run of form together and end up of winning the next ten matches in a row, all in time for the next Old Firm derby.
What Rangers have to do is maintain their consistency and forget about what’s happening at Celtic. If they don’t, their form will dip, and we could be looking at a different end to the season. Even though they’re 21 points clear, Steven Gerrard knows that if you start thinking you’ve already won it, or you are reveling in the fact that Celtic are going through a difficult time and then you lose two or three matches because of being complacent, you can lose all your momentum and their form will slip. I know there won’t be any complacency from Rangers or Steven Gerrard whatsoever.”
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