Harvey Barnes put in a man of the match performance in Leicester City’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday, strengthening his chances of making England’s Euro 2020 squad this summer.
With a doe-eyed Gareth Southgate watching on, Barnes made Ahmed Elmohamady look every bit as old as his 33 years, tormenting the right-back with his relentless, direct runs and registering a goal and an assist in the first half.
He started brightly and with 19 minutes on the clock he set up James Maddison for the opener, laying off the ball perfectly for the midfielder to place home from just outside the box.
Soon after, his outside to inside run – a trick he repeated several times throughout proceedings – caused chaos in the Villa defence. Elmohamady’s pathetic clearance was then seized upon by Jamie Vardy, and when Emiliano Martinez spilled his shot, Barnes reacted with predatory instinct to sweep home the rebound.
The fun did not stop there, either. In the second half, Elmohamady was forced to take a yellow card after the wide man managed to slip in behind the Villa back line. Barnes would also go on to create three further chances for his teammates and pressed efficiently, as well as registering seven ball recoveries.
Those who have been following his meteoric rise this season will not have been surprised by his imperious display. At the start of the campaign, mentioning Barnes in the same breath as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho Raheem Sterling or Jack Grealish when listing off potential England starters would have been met with scorn.
Just a month into the season though, his Three Lions dream became a reality when he was handed a 15-minute cameo against Wales back in October. That cap came as a result of England’s deep injury crisis, but for March’s World Cup qualifiers – and perhaps even the Euros if he keep his current level of performance up – Barnes could force his way into the squad on merit.
“I’d love to be involved in the Euros,” he told the Daily Mail recently. “But I have to realise there is a long way of this season to go so it can’t be at the front of my head at the moment. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about being involved and that I didn’t have the ambition to be in the squad. You want to keep challenging yourself. That’s what I’ve done so far in my career.”
His display at Villa Park means Barnes has now scored more league goals this season than his four competitors for the left forward berth. He is also outperforming his xG more effectively than Sterling, Rashford, Grealish and Sancho.
Defensively, he offers Southgate a great deal more than most of the alternatives as well. Only Grealish has completed more ball recoveries, pressures and tackles this term, while Barnes leads the way for interceptions.
While he does lack a bit of creativity and composure on the ball, in terms of direct dribbling and finishing, there are few options better for England at the moment. Giving Barnes a run out against any of San Marino, Albania or Poland next month to see if he can cut it at international level is exactly what he deserves for his recent performances.
Beyond that, his selection as a ‘wildcard’ for this summer’s tournament is looking increasingly plausible as well.