Harvey Barnes symbolises much of what Leicester are doing right these days. An academy graduate who earned his first senior England cap last month at the age of 22, he is a prime example of the club’s ability to spot and develop exciting talent.
But after being overlooked by Gareth Southgate for the most recent internationals Barnes knows that just as he must continue to improve if he is to go to next year’s European Championship, he and his Leicester teammates must demonstrate the progress they have made this year if they are to remain above the Premier League champions after Sunday’s trip to Anfield. When the teams last met, at the King Power on Boxing Day, Liverpool won 4-0 and inflicted a lesson that hit Leicester hard.
“It was a real insight into the level that you do need to hit to be a top team and to be challenging for the title,” says Barnes. “We went into that game very confident and thinking we could win. They turned up and showed us what you need to hit and what you need to do to win a title. They had that quality throughout the whole season.”
Coming five days after Manchester City had clipped their wings, the loss pained the previously high-flying Leicester hard. “We didn’t realise it at the time but it probably did knock our confidence a bit,” says Barnes, who suggests that was one of the reasons, along with injuries and loss of form, why Leicester ultimately had to settle for a creditable fifth-place finish.
In September, they reached one milestone on the path towards fulfilment by avenging the defeat by City with a spectacular 5-2 victory at the Etihad. Brendan Rodgers sprung a tactical surprise by adopting a counterattacking ploy that benefited from Barnes’s speed and directness, qualities that have also helped bring victories at Leeds and Arsenal this season.
Barnes scored at Elland Road and also found the net in the home win over Burnley, which means he is on course to surpass last season’s tally of six league goals. But he knows he needs to go beyond that by a lot, especially if he is to match the figures reached by England peers such as Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish.
“I’m trying to base my game on them and hit the levels that they are hitting,” he says. “It’s a big challenge. Raheem throughout the last few , the goals he’s been getting … But it’s about setting targets to get up to them and scoring as many as you can will help.”
Rodgers keeps emphasising that point. “He has reiterated to me that if you are in that final third and you are an attacking player in the team, you can play as well as you want but you need to be getting the goals, the assists and the chances created,” says Barnes. “Otherwise you are not helping the team in the right way.”
The handy thing for Barnes when it comes to improving his strike rate is that he can draw on advice from two of the best strikers the Premier league has seen: Alan Shearer and Jamie Vardy. Shearer devoted a segment on Match of the Day to Barnes in February 2019 after the player botched a couple of chances in a defeat at Tottenham, pointing out that Barnes did not look up before shooting.
“You don’t always have the time or the space with every opportunity that you get but it’s definitely something that I’ve tried to work on, when you do find yourself with a bit of time on your hands,” says Barnes. “I’d take it from him, anyway, he’s scored I don’t know how many goals. It’s someone to learn from.”
So is Vardy, last season’s top scorer in the Premier League. “Being able to play with him and watch it first hand, that is the best way to learn,” says Barnes. “He is one of the best at it, so it is the perfect example for me to learn off and add those things that he does so well to mine.
“A lot of his goals are one-v-ones and it is watching his composure and seeing how he picks his spot. The majority of the time, he scores them. When I get those opportunities, it is about doing the same.”