Harvey Barnes Is About to Go From Under the Radar to Premier League Star

What player did you miss watching the most during the short-ish absence of Premier League football from our lives? You might've been pining over Jack Grealish's driving runs from midfield, or Mohamed Salah finding the top corner with his left foot. Heck, you might even be looking forward to the hypnotic spectacle of Harry Maguire planting his enormous swede on an opposition cross.

But with the exception of an extremely specific subset of Leicester City fans, barely anyone would've said at the start of the new season that Harvey Barnes was the footballer they were most looking forward to watching again.

It's not exactly a surprise - the 22-year old left winger managed a respectable six goals and seven assists last season, in a campaign where Raheem Sterling, one of a number of left-sided forwards keeping him out of the England side, bagged 20 times.

A few eyebrows were understandably raised, therefore, when Match of the Day's Jermaine Jenas chose to put the spotlight on Barnes after Leicester's fairly routine 3-0 win over West Brom, where Barnes spent the 2018/19 season on loan.

Jenas' praise wasn't the usual generic 'yeah he worked really hard today and hopefully he can push on this season and blah blah blah' - he instead emphatically predicted that 'this player [Barnes] can go right to the top', arguing that he wouldn't look out of place playing for the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City.

For whatever reason the armchair pundits of this world love to take the mick out of Jenas, so his sage prediction very probably fell on deaf ears. But the former Tottenham man succinctly highlighted the qualities that define Barnes, and those that currently limit him from being a more effective player - simply put, he's incredibly direct and very adept at creating shots for himself, but is currently struggling to convert those shots into goals.

The West Brom game itself showed one enormous component in Barnes' attacking game - first-rate athleticism which forces defenders to react quickly and creates fantastic scoring opportunities if they don't.

Barnes didn't physically win Leicester's first penalty against the Baggies, but spiritually he absolutely did. James Justin's pass into space on the left channel might in today's parlance be described as 'low percentage', but Barnes shortened the odds himself, beating Dara O'Shea for pace before outmuscling substitute Rekeem Harper.

From there, Kyle Bartley was forced to brush Vardy aside to close down Barnes at the byline, and his rushed, clumsy attempt saw the spot-kick awarded, a penalty won by Vardy, but truly won by the intent and speed of Barnes.

It's this directness which can give the appearance of something streaky and unclean about Barnes' game - out of the top 40 players to have attempted the most dribbles last season, Barnes' 47.4% completion rate was the second lowest (FbRef).

Of the three players keeping him company in the sub-50% bracket however, Sterling and Christian Pulisic were two of them (Miguel Almiron was the other, if you were wondering, but that sounded less cool), and such a comparison makes it more obvious that Barnes does not seek to dribble for possession's sake, but to make things happen.

Where Barnes needs to improve, as Jenas indicated, is converting the fantastic chances he earns through his clever movement and raw speed.

Although Barnes loves cutting onto his right foot as much as Salah loves cutting onto his left, the comparisons end there - Barnes has a tendency to produce quite a flat shot with his right, and while he undeniably possesses a lot of power (just look at his ridiculous volley against Sheffield United), he struggles to generate the finesse to find the corner.

Even his goals evidence this tendency to hit shots into the defender or straight into the goalkeeper's arms - against Chelsea, Burnley and Wigan last season he did fantastically well to shift the ball onto his right foot in perfect positions, mainly on the left side of the box, but all three of his efforts were deflected, rather than cleanly struck, into the net.

So we've covered his shooting, his attacking intent, and the absolute pair of wheels he possesses...is there anything else? Oh yes, Harvey Barnes is extremely good at creating chances with both feet.

Leicester fans may have died a little inside when the Sky commentator referred to his 'favoured left foot' against West Brom, but when you evaluate Barnes' success as a creator, it's an easy mistake to make.

Of the ten assists Barnes has in the Premier League with Leicester, four of them are with his weaker left foot (Understat), making him an incredibly difficult prospect for defenders to figure out under pressure.

His assist in the second leg of Leicester's League Cup tie against Aston Villa is a case in point - having shepherded the ball expertly into the area with his right foot, he unleashed an inch-perfect cross to the far post for Kelechi Iheanacho to tap in with his weaker peg.

Barnes' ability to weight a pass well with both feet is perhaps, alongside his natural flair for high-octane attacking football, part of what provoked Jenas to suggest that he possesses such a high ceiling.

But life for a left-winger in English football is hard - even if Sterling were to pick up an injury or fall out of favour, it's hard to see Barnes overhauling the behemoth that is Marcus Rashford in the England international side.

But surprise, intensity and the ability to explode into life at a moment's notice are all cornerstones of Barnes' natural game, and if he can light the blue touch paper this season, English football may well have a new supernova.

Source : 90min