Newcastle United have agreed a deal worth around £38m ($48.8m) with Leicester City for Harvey Barnes, with Allan Saint-Maximin expected to leave for Saudi club Al-Ahli to make room in the budget.
So there may be an in and an out midfielder, but what are Newcastle doing with Barnes, a 25-year-old who graduated from Leicester’s academy in 2016?
While Saint-Maximin will be remembered for his trickery and adventurous style of play, along with a sometimes disappointing end product and rather lackluster defensive efforts, Barnes’ style is more straightforward: one two and goals.
Barnes has hit double figures in each of the last three seasons (13, 11 and 13 in all competitions). After being urged by former Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers to improve his goalscoring output, he has certainly responded.
It is now his main strength. He is direct and goes for goal at every opportunity. As The Athletic’s Michael Cox wrote in his analysis of Barnes, he’s not a conventional winger. He plays wide and tends to operate on the touchline, but when he gets space, he will cut in and run straight to goal.
Unlike Saint-Maximin, Barnes doesn’t tend to take on defenders as much as you might expect for a wide player, although he carries the ball well.
His pace means he is more than capable of doing that, as he did to beat full-back Ashley Young to score against Aston Villa last season, but the general trend is that he looks to link up with a centre-forward to give and go receiving the one-two before opening his body and flicking his preferred right-footed shot inside the far post.
A classic example was at Wolverhampton Wanderers last October, when he played a two with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall before scoring.
And on the final day of the season, when he linked up with Kelechi Iheanacho to score against West Ham…
This style of goal has become as trademarked as his bow and arrow celebration.
Conventional wings tend to find their assist numbers higher than their targets, but Barnes contributed just three assists last season.
In 2021-22, he scored 13 goals for his teammates, but this was by far his best season in assists, the only time he has reached double figures.
He is not so much a winger as a modern inside forward, and Rodgers felt with a bit of work he could become Leicester’s equivalent of Sadio Mane. But to get him to this level, Rodgers wanted Barnes to vary his runs and be less predictable, although defenders knowing what’s coming doesn’t mean he can be stopped easily, as he showed last season.
Rodgers felt that Barnes could be even more effective if he made different runs combined with more bursts in the inside channels and down the middle of the flank, and was frustrated when Barnes didn’t.
To emphasize his former manager’s point, when Barnes made that run he was extremely effective, scoring at Brentford in March when James Maddison saw his run in.
And in the 4-1 win against Tottenham in February, he floated in a central position outside the box, almost like a No.10, finding a pocket of space before turning and firing into the bottom corner.
He teamed up with Maddison again at Everton in November. Barnes started the move down the left flank as usual but, after playing a pass to Maddison, broke down the inside channel and received the pass back before making space to fire home.
Barnes’ next manager, Dean Smith, also wanted to see more of that variety.
Rodgers had felt that, against deep defenses that didn’t give Barnes space, he needed to add more intelligence to his game.
After Leicester’s 2-1 away win at PSV Eindhoven in the Europa Conference League in April 2022, Rodgers explained why he took Barnes off at half-time for Ademola Lookman, who Rodgers had wanted to sign permanently after his loan spell from RB Leipzig to push Barnes. and offer competition.
“At 1-0, they collapsed so there was no space for Harvey, so we needed more sympathy in the final third,” he said. Low-block defenses are something Newcastle can be expected to face this season, especially at home.
Rodgers also felt that Barnes’ defensive work in getting back to help his full-back was an area that needed improvement. According to data from smarterscout (which gives players a range of scores from zero to 99, related to how often a player performs a certain action or how effectively he is compared to others who play his position), Barnes has only a rating of 26 for disrupting opposition moves, while his rebounds rating (how often he picks up loose balls or intercepts) is just four.
Still, his overall defensive impact rating, which measures how effective he is at preventing the opposition from advancing the ball, is above average at 67, showing that he is at least productive in pressing the opposition
“It’s a joy when you see him in full flow,” Rodgers said of Barnes in March 2022, after the home win against Rennes in the League Conference. “He is very direct, he wants to get at the opponent, with and without the ball, and what has improved is his final pass.
“Whether to dismiss him, this vision and awareness to see it, or his calmness at the end.
“So that’s great, but he still knows that we demand more and he also demands more from himself, and that’s important, that he has that hunger if he wants to continue and develop even more as a top player.”
Barnes is a good player, a proven Premier League striker yet to reach his peak, but he will cost Newcastle a lot of money and there are still areas of his game, particularly defensively, that need improvement.
But while he is not the finished article, the raw materials are certainly there.
(Top image: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)