The term ‘underrated’ gets thrown around a lot in football discourse. Usually, it is attributed to defensive midfielders, whose donkey work is overlooked by neutrals, Michael Carrick being the most obvious example.
For years he was heralded as Manchester United’s unsung hero for his routine passing that held a flimsy midfield together. But it got to the point where he was so underrated that he became appropriately rated.
However, some players are truly deserving of the title, and none more so than Ashley Barnes, the perfect combination of the old school and the new.
The 29-year-old is enjoying a superb 2019 – and Burnley’s ‘grime subject’ is managing to keep pace with Premier League big guns Sergio Aguero and Sadio Mane.
On the international scene though, he’s still getting that same “underrated” treatment.
The English forward has started the 2019/20 campaign on fire, netting four goals in Burnley’s opening three games.
There was an element of surprise from a section of England fans after Gareth Southgate left Barnes out of the squad for next month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Kosovo.
Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson kept his place in the squad, despite failing to find the net so far this season.
Barnes has hit double figures in all competitions for the past two seasons for Burnley, but is yet to gain international recognition from Southgate. The England boss will need to justify his selection criteria at some point in time.
Still speaking generally, to say Barnes has enjoyed a productive 2019 would be an understatement and perhaps an insult to his attacking prowess – as he is very much keeping pace with some of the division’s most potent finishers.
As it stands, only Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero have found the net more times than Barnes since the turn of the year, with the duo netting 15 and 16 goals respectively to the Englishman’s 13.
13 – Only Sergio Agüero (16) and Sadio Mané (15) have scored more Premier League goals than Ashley Barnes (13) in 2019. Streak.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 25, 2019
Dissecting that statistic a little further reveals the true scope of Barnes’ insatiable form: he has outscored the likes of Mohamed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane, despite not possessing the world class talent behind him to unlock doors and create countless chances.
But any fear that this stellar spell was just a flash in the pan has been well-and-truly dispelled in these formative Premier League stages, with the 29-year-old already boasting four goals to his name, while having the fourth-best goals per 90 minutes ratio (1.4) and best shots per 90 (4.6 for players with 200+ minutes).
Asides scoring goals only the Englishman is also right up there with the top strikers in many regards as well. The image below just goes further to buttress that point.
What’s even more impressive is not just Barnes’ form in front of goal, but his overall gameplay, with the old school forward possessing that Diego Costa-esque bullishness which gives defenders nightmares for weeks.
Indeed, traditional No 9s are in vogue at the minute, and Barnes is a standard-bearer of these throwback centre-forwards, but if he keeps up his sensational form, he could be this season’s surprise Golden Boot package.