Jamie Vardy’s off-the-shoulder movements. James Maddison breaking through the lines. Wilfred Ndidi disrupting opposition midfields. Kasper Schmeichel’s fearless shot-stopping. And runs from Barnes that are so direct, defenders simply do not know how to cope.
It was during the 2020/21 season that this became most apparent. No matter what position he would gracefully filter in from, Barnes flowed through the left-hand side of City’s attack to link up with his fellow forwards like a series of tributaries joining a river.
His arrowing runs are often overwhelming, his quick feet become a blur, and before defenders can react, Barnes has worked an opportunity on goal, or has set up one of his team-mates.
Barnes’ 2020/21 statistics substantiate exactly that, and after agreeing a new deal to 2025 with the Club on Thursday, he spoke at length about why his playing style has developed thanks to an aggressive approach to games.
“My style is to be very direct,” he told LCFC.com in an exclusive interview. “Because I’m a quick and powerful player, when I get the ball, I’m always looking to make things happen and to put the defence on the back foot straight away. One of my main attributes is to be as direct as I can.
“The physical side of my game has improved too, and it has allowed me to adapt and be more aggressive when I’m going forward.
“Also, I think my confidence is a big part of it as well. When you back yourself when you have the ball, and believe that you can go past any defender, that will show on the pitch and that will allow you to go and do what you want to do. For me, the mental side, as well as the physical side, has been important.”
If you can score as many amazing goals as you do tap-ins at the back post, then you’re doing your job as an attacker.Harvey Barnes LCFC.com
With a combination of rapid acceleration and precise dribbling, Barnes lit up Leicester’s forward line last term, however he missed the final three months of the season with a knee injury, and the Foxes were without him for 15 matches.
But it was throughout that period of rehabilitation that he was able to better other areas of his game, including his physical attributes, while also supporting his team-mates in any way he could.
“In a way, it’s given me a chance to work on other physical parts which I knew I could improve on, and I feel like since I’ve been back, I’ve felt really good,” the 23-year-old said of his spell on the sidelines. “I feel really sharp and really powerful.
“In that period where you’re not playing, you do have that chance to reflect on your game and how the season has gone. It gives you things to improve on when you’re back. I feel like I’ve come back well, and it’s a chance for me to kick on from the standards that I set myself last season as well.”
Physical efforts aside, Barnes also has to concentrate on the mental aspect of the game, specifically the on-pitch decision making process that unfolds in just fractions of a second as he drives forward while in possession of the ball.
It’s another attribute that he’s been working on, and to great effect, too.
“It’s something that we’ve (him and Brendan Rodgers) spoken about together, and it’s something that we can definitely add even more to my game now – goals and getting into the box more,” he said.
“If you look at the best wingers in the world, as good as they are out wide and dribbling with the ball, they find themselves arriving in the box at the right times to get a lot of those scrappy goals, which is important for the team. If you can score as many amazing goals as you do tap-ins at the back post, then you’re doing your job as an attacker.
The England international signed a new four-year deal with the Football Club on Thursday.
“It’s something that I’ve definitely, over the last season and going into this season, looked to add to my game. As much good work as I do out of the box and out wide, trying to create chances for other players, it’s also about getting in and getting those goals that come off your knee or whatever it is. If it goes in the back of the net, it doesn’t matter because it’s a goal for the team and for yourself.”
Barnes, when sat pitchside at King Power Stadium, is now asked to place himself on the pitch, around 30 yards from goal, and describe his exact thoughts as if he were squaring up to take on an opposition defender.
It’s something that he does every day in training, and replicates in matches. And it is also pivotal in the way Leicester City break down other sides.
He explained: “If I’ve got the ball in that sort of area, my first thought is: ‘How can I get myself a chance at goal?’, and I think that’s part of how direct I try to be on the pitch. If you can go straight at the heart of the defence, you can put them straight on the back foot, and even if the chance doesn’t come for yourself, it may come for someone else so you can slide them in.
“You have to have that mentality as an attacker. You always have to be thinking on the pitch: ‘How can I score? How can I be creating?’, because as much stuff as you do, whether it’s on the halfway line or out wide, if you’re not getting yourself in the box and getting the chances, you’re not doing your job for the team.
“For me, it also depends on the situation in the game and how the team sets up. If a team is playing a back four or a back five, it can change the way that they defend against you.
If that one time the defender switches off for half a second and you’re in, I always say to the other players, you have to make sure that you’re trying the difficult passes – the ones that might not come off,Harvey Barnes LCFC.com
“But I think, certainly over the last year or 18 months, whoever I’ve come up against, I’ve not tried to change my game at all. For me, it’s been about backing my ability and whoever I come up against, I can cause them a problem in the game.
“I try to think to myself that if I make the same run 10 times over, the one time it might come off, it might be a goal. It’s just about having that mindset of whoever you’re up against, whatever the situation or the score is in the game, just keep doing the right thing by making the right runs.”
It is at this moment that persistence and acceptance become key to the conversation, as Barnes explains why a player must always persevere to be successful, while also understanding they may not always be triumphant in their actions.
“If that one time the defender switches off for half a second and you’re in, I always say to the other players, you have to make sure that you’re trying the difficult passes – the ones that might not come off,” Barnes added.
“The one time it does come off, and I make the run, or someone else makes the run and you’re through on goal, they are the chances that you need to make because they win you games.
His aggression on the pitch saw him score 13 goals for the Foxes in 2020/21.
“It’s the same with the runs. If you make it 10 or 12 times and you’ve not got in and you’re getting frustrated, the next time the defender may switch off for a half-second and you’re in and you score – and then the other 10 runs are forgotten about. It’s what you’re in the team to do.
“It’s about having that mentality of repeating it, because it’s going to pay off in the end, even if it’s not in that game, because it could be the next game. It’s about having that patience because there may be games where the teams are defending deep against us and there’s no space. You make the run and you don’t get in at all.
“Then there could be games where it’s open and you make the run three times and you score three times. It’s about accepting that each game is different and as long as you’re doing the right things and trying to push the boundaries a bit by not playing it safe, over the course of a season, you’re going to get your rewards for that.”
Having agreed a fresh four-year deal with his boyhood club, the Blue Army will no doubt be eager to watch City’s new No.7 rampage down the wing in future games.
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