Harvey Barnes and Aston Villa transfer state of play as Unai Emery targets ‘specific winger’

 

We need a winger, a specific winger, we need it and we are trying to find one,” was Unai Emery’s response to what type of player he was looking for in his first transfer window at Aston Villa back in January.

 

That remains the case with Villa unable to strike the right deal for a new wing wizard four months ago, with the club instead opting to do business in the summer.

 

“The January market is not easy,” head coach Emery stressed, “and we only want to add players if they really will improve us and make us better as a team.

 

“I am so demanding with the players we can sign. I am being so demanding because we have very good players in the squad and we will only do something if we can improve.”

The list of players Villa have been linked with continues to grow. However, Emery’s side have been touted with tentative interest in Leicester City’s Harvey Barnes. The 25-year-old has had a decent season despite the Foxes’ struggles, with the winger top of their scoring charts with 12 goals, including a great strike against Emery’s Villa last month.

Dean Smith’s Leicester, meanwhile, are as short as 1/8 to join Southampton in the Championship next season.

 

Looking ahead to the summer and what it could well mean for Leicester and their star players, BirminghamLive caught up with Leicester City reporter Jordan Blackwell (JB) for a lowdown on Barnes’ situation should Villa opt to move in and sign the former West Brom loanee.

What’s your understanding of Harvey Barnes’ situation at Leicester, both if the Foxes were to stay up and indeed if they dropped down?

 

JB: We’ll start with the easier scenario. If Leicester go down, he is extremely likely to be sold. There will be a revenue shortfall in the Championship that Leicester will have to make up by selling assets, and after James Maddison, Harvey Barnes is their most valuable. It’s likely that the sales of those two will form a large majority of the funds City have to work with.

 

If they stay up, it’s a trickier situation. I can see there being some resistance to selling Barnes as well as Maddison, especially given Youri Tielemans is also heading for the exit on a free transfer. Leicester typically have only sold one key player per summer, but with Maddison needing to go to avoid losing him on a free transfer in 2024, I could see the club holding off interest in Barnes for at least one more season.

In 2024, he would only have one year remaining on his Leicester contract, and think the club would feel that is a more suitable time to sell him, rather than losing him this summer and giving themselves a Premier League-quality winger to sign as well as Premier League-quality box-to-box and attacking midfielders.

 

Has there been any longstanding interest in Barnes from Premier League clubs, and how much will Leicester demand should he opt to move away?

JB: Yes, there has been interest. Because he’s English and because of his consistent record, I think he is the sort of player who is bound to attract suitors. Liverpool have always been the biggest team who have been linked, partly because of how suitable he would be as part of their front three, although they seem to have a plethora of options up top now, given the recent signings of Diaz and Gakpo. Newcastle are another who have been keen.

 

I think Leicester would feel he’s worth at least £40m. He’s got 29 goals and assists over the last two seasons combined, which is more than Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. There’s only really Bukayo Saka who is getting better numbers as an English winger.

Should Villa wish to act, could you see that being a good fit, just how highly do you rate him and what are his standout attributes?

 

JB: I think he’s reached a point in his development now where he would be a hit wherever he goes. His finishing, composure, and movement in the box have come on leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, so that he’s now someone who can be relied upon to score regularly.

 

His speed is his stand-out quality, and his directness. You often see wingers waiting for their opponents to stand them up so they can beat them in a one-on-one, but Barnes doesn’t do that. Every time he receives the ball, his first thought is: how can I get the ball further up the pitch?

He’s not a tricky winger. Don’t expect step-overs to beat his full-backs. He relies on pure speed, and one-twos with team-mates. That would be key to getting the best out of him, having a midfielder and/or a striker who is willing to play the quick passes with him in order to help him get in behind. He has the burst of pace to surge past defenders in these situations, so it’s a great little move if you can get a midfielder or a striker on the same wavelength as him. There’s plenty of players who have managed to do that at Leicester – Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison – so it seems like Barnes is adaptable.

 

As for his weaknesses, because he does rely so much on speed, he can struggle if there’s not much space for him to run into, so when opponents sit deep. That’s why those one-twos are so important, because if a team is defending their box, there’s no space for him to knock it and go down the touchline.

Also, if you don’t get men around him, he will run into trouble often. As mentioned, he doesn’t fool defenders with pieces of skill, he relies on pure speed. So clever full-backs will be able to work that out and will stop his dribbles on the ball.

 

Defensively, he’s improved, but the feeling is that whoever has been left-back at Leicester has often had more work to do because he has not been getting back quickly enough to support them.


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