There have been lots of heroes of Leicester City’s amazing season and all have had their story told. Jamie Vardy and James Maddison are the poster boys of the Foxes’ surprise push for Champions League football.
On Saturday, the 22-year-old ensured he could not be overlooked any longer. By scoring City’s first in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea, Barnes netted in his third successive Premier League game. Before bagging at the 4-1 rout of West Ham United, he had never shopped in consecutive games before.
It is a remarkable rise for somebody who had been sent out on loan to West Bromwich Albion at the onset of this 2018/19 campaign. But it’s indicative of the transformative impact Brendan Rodgers has had on everybody in the King Power Stadium in little under a year at the helm.
It was, however, Rodgers’ predecessor Claude Puel who remembered Barnes from his fruitful loan spell with the Baggies on January 11 last year. The Frenchman felt that the young winger could add something that was missing from his misfiring side.
Immediately thrust to the side, Barnes’ electric pace and ability to beat a man brought a new dimension to Puel’s staid Leicester side. It wasn’t enough to save the prior Lyon trainer from the sofa, but Barnes helped kickstart the Foxes’ season.
He scored his first goal in the 2-2 draw at West Ham in late April and ended the season as an England Under-21 international with a new five-year deal under his belt.
After beating out fellow kid Demarai Gray for a starting place in Rodgers’ new-look City side, Barnes scored on the second weekend of this year as Leicester won 2-1 in new-boys Sheffield United.
But he did not find the back of the net until the FA Cup third round, scoring the second in a 2-0 triumph over Championship side Wigan Athletic. That aim, however, has sparked a run of four in six in all contests.
Always a menace with the ball at his feet, Barnes finishes 1.85 dribbles of this 3.52 he tries per 90 – he has included an end product to his game that had previously been missing.
His father, former York City, Burnley and Doncaster Rovers ahead Paul Barnes, knew a thing or two about finding the back of the net and notched 206 occasions in 578 career looks.
Says he’s been following the lead of Foxes team-mate Vardy.
“One hundred percent, there’s a lot to learn from [Vardy],” Barnes stated . “You look at the form he’s been in his ending throughout the season has been spot on.”
He continued: “I do not believe there is something to put [my great form] right down to. For me, it is just getting into more dangerous places. When opportunities have come my way I’ve been more clinical. It’s important.”
It was not quite happening for me . Obviously, the past few games they’ve begun to go in.”
Getting in the appropriate areas hasn’t been an issue for Barnes. With 2.69 shots (per 90) this year, the child ranks sixth among Premier League midfielders. Of those, 1.15 (per 90) have been on goal, putting him among his peers.
That has led to an xG90 of 0.37, next only to Christian Pulisic (0.43). However, no participant classed as a midfielder in England’s top-flight can better Barnes’ complete seasonal xG of 5.84. That is better than Kevin De Bruyne (5.7), Mason Mount (5.46), Jack Grealish (5.15), Dele Alli (4.76) and team-mate Maddison (4.68).
Why has he suddenly hit such a rich vein of form in front of goal?
Looking at his xG information, we can start to formulate a response. At the first 19 Premier League matches of the season, Barnes’ efforts were worth 0.3 goals (per 90). In the four league fixtures since the turn of the year, this figure has more than doubled to 0.62.
There is more to Barnes’ match than goals, however. He’s also a provider. With six Premier League aids, in a rate of 0.38 per 90, he ranks third among Premier League midfielders. That’s in fact an over-performance against an xA90 score of 0.25.
In addition to that, Barnes creates 1.28 open-play opportunities (per 90), with 0.26 of these huge Odds, and those are numbers that pit him against Maddison (0.3 significant Odds and 1.32 open-play opportunities ).
The natural question is if he can force his way into England contention, something Maddison has fought to do. With Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford for business in the broad areas, he’ll have his work cut out forcing his way to Gareth Southgate’s plans.
But if the shining tribute Rodgers compensated Barnes is anything to go by, a senior England call-up isn’t out of the question.
“He does completing exercises, left foot and right foot, and evaluation videos but the secret with him is that he needs to improve,” Rodgers told The Athletic. “How do I improve?”
“This is an instruction for those players. You need to check at your game if you would like to be a top-class professional in the elite end. It’s a constant development of his talent. That’s what we’re seeing today with him.”