Harvey Barnes remembers only too well what happened the last time Leicester City played against Liverpool.
He remembers the confidence that entered the game on Boxing Day, with the opportunity to close the gap with the visiting leaders. And he remembers what happened next.
Liverpool beat Leicester 4-0. Their most complete performance of the season. Barnes barely got a touch and was submerged for the hour.
Harvey Barnes tries to get close to Trent Alexander-Arnold as Liverpool in Leicester City
Suddenly, the hope of another unlikely title challenge became a grim reality of Leicester’s place in the pecking order. Back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool.
“It was a real insight into the levels you need to reach to join a top team and challenge for that title,” said Barnes.
‘We entered the game very confidently and thought we could win. They showed up and showed us what you need to hit and what to do to win a title. They had that quality all season. ‘
Leicester and Liverpool will meet again on Sunday afternoon. Again, it’s a first-class collision. Again, it will probably determine how serious the Leicester title challenge can be.
A few things are different this time. To begin with, it is at Anfield. But also because it is Leicester who is leading the pack after their best start to a top season. Liverpool, one point behind, are third on goal difference. And what’s more, Leicester has already beat Man City.
Barnes was only 18 when Leicester won the title. He hadn’t made his first debut yet, but he remembers the hustle and bustle around the place. “There was certainly an atmosphere you could feel,” he said. He admits there have been some ‘crazy results’ this season as well. From the outside, it has everything to experience another ‘Leicester’ season. But will they be it again?
City’s victory was a sign of their improvement. ‘Not too many teams go there and get the result that we have achieved. The nice thing for us was the way we set it up, we did it perfectly. They didn’t know how to deal with it.
“There have been times this season when we have not played as well as we can, but we have had results. At the end of last season, we weren’t playing as well as we could have done, but the results were also disappointing. That is something we managed to get a little out of our game. ‘
Barnes has not allowed to talk about a possible call from England to derail his displays for the Foxes
And they did it with a patched up team. Despite all the talk of Liverpool’s injury problems, Leicester has reached the top while suffering himself. Ricardo Pereira has not kicked a ball this season, while Jonny Evans, Caglar Soyuncu and Timothy Castagne were all absent injured. Wilfred Ndidi too. Jamie Vardy too. James Maddison too.
“We coped very well with that,” said Barnes. “ We are honored to have lost some of the key figures from the first eleven and we have still managed to get where we are in the table and maintain that quality. For us, players will come back, so there will be competition for seats. Hopefully that will just push us forward. ‘
Barnes enjoys that competition. At first glance, Barnes is a relaxed kind of guy. When the Leicester winger fell on the other side of the Zoom screen, there was talk of his international breakthrough and the fact that he was left out of the England squad.
There was disappointment but no resentment. Barnes is relaxed about it. It just meant he could focus on Leicester. He could be giving Netflix ‘abuse’. Either way, he’ll just have to ‘force the manager’s arm’ next time.
But behind all this is a solution. “He has an inner steel and aggression,” says Rodgers. ‘When he gets angry, he’s at his best. He’s not an aggressive boy by nature, he has a lovely calm demeanor, but when he gets aggressive he’s hard to stop.
It’s funny, when you talk to Hamza Choudhury and those guys who played with him on the youth team, they all say that if Harvey got really mad he’d just be so electric on the field. I just need to find a way to piss him off. ‘
Barnes’ most recent Premier League goal was the thumping 4-1 win against Leeds United
Rodgers continues to push Barnes to improve. He has a history of getting the best out of his wingers. It was under Rodgers at Liverpool that Raheem Sterling became a regular England international.
The message to Barnes, from Rodgers and to himself, is clear. ‘You see the top players around you and they score. I try to base my game on them and pass the levels they hit. Raheem during the past seasons, the goals he has scored. ‘
Barnes has two Premier League goals so far and one more in the Europa League. He’s had more shots and touches in the opponent’s box than Jamie Vardy. But he has to be more clinical.
He’s taken the advice of Alan Shearer, who said on Match of the Day last year that he should look up before shooting. He worked on that during training. He also picks up as much as possible from Vardy. Being able to play with him and watch him is the best way to learn. He’s one of the best at it and the perfect example to learn and to add to mine those things he does so well in his game. ‘
Leicester’s opponents will reap the benefits of a long-term project under one of the game’s best coaches on Sunday. Rodgers has made Leicester a top six team in 20 months. How far can they go?
“We’re still very young as a team,” said Barnes. ‘We still have a lot to learn. We have seen many improvements under the gaffer. We know we still have a lot to do. if we can keep the whole squad together and make progress with the manager, we will only get better and better. ‘