John Barnes’ thoughts on Anfield, Joel Matip, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita

Following Liverpool’s devastating 5-2 loss to Real Madrid at Anfield, FutFanatico sat down with Liverpool icon to discuss an array of topics surrounding the Reds. He shared his views on Liverpool’s use of Joel Matip, Mohamed Salah becoming both leading goal scorer and assists in the Champions League and the future of midfielder Naby Keita. 

Losing is one thing in football. How you lose is another. After going 2-0 up against Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Liverpool went on to concede five goals without reply. Many of the goals conceded were caused by Liverpool’s mistakes. Defender Joe Gomez has come under fire for his part in the Anfield massacre. Some have questioned why Klopp decided to start Gomez ahead of Cameroonian centre-half Joel Matip. However, Barnes is resolute in his belief that Jurgen Klopp knows what he’s doing and would have selected Gomez over Matip for a reason. 

“Jurgen Klopp knows more than anybody else.”

“He sees them in training so whatever decision he takes is the right decision.” 

“Joel Matip didn’t play ahead of Gomez for a reason and Klopp knows that reason. We don’t.” 

“People don’t see what’s going on Monday to Friday so I never criticise team selections because I don’t know the situation.” 

seats in liverpool stadium

With four senior centre halves at his disposal, Klopp has a tough job to keep them all content with playing time. There has been much debate as to who Klopp’s first choice central defenders should be. Especially between Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate and Matip. Barnes is of the opinion that when all four defenders are fit, Matip is a great understudy to van Dijk and Konate. 

“When everyone is fit I would have van Dijk and Konate.” 

“Matip and Gomez have shown they can be good understudies but when you’re talking about Liverpool at their best it’s Konate and van Dijk.” 

Whilst the result against Madrid was incredibly disappointing for Liverpool, it was a record breaking night for Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah. Thanks to his role in Darwin Nunez‘s goal, Salah registered his 13th assist for Liverpool in the Champions League. He now has more assists than any other player in the club’s history. Furthermore, the Egyptians strike against los Blancos was his 42nd for Liverpool in the competition – breaking Steven Gerrard’s record. Barnes was full of praise for the Egypt international and claims it’s a great achievement. 

“Mo is a fantastic player who scores loads of goals.” 

“The top goalscorer for Liverpool in European football is a great achievement but European football has changed.” 

“If you look at the 70’s and 80’s there were only 3 or four matches in European competition because there were no group stages.” 

“Players like Kenny Dagliesh and Ian Rush would probably have scored as many goals had they had the same amount of games.” 

“It’s still a great feat for Mo all the same.”

In recent weeks Jurgen Klopp seems to have settled on a front three of Darwin Nunez alongside Cody Gakpo and Salah. Barnes notes that Salah will have to continue adapting to his new forwards as they operate differently to the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. The Liverpool legend also points out the necessity for Liverpool to improve as a team defensively if they are to have a successful end to the season.

“The team has to play in a more consistent manner.” 

“I don’t think the team should focus on playing just for Mo. Liverpool have to play in a way which allows the whole team to perform.” 

“I don’t think Mo has to form a partnership with any particular player.”

“Liverpool have to attack better, defend better and be more compact.” 

“Mo has been used to playing in a certain way with Firmino for a number of years so he has to get used to a new way of playing.”

Liverpool’s midfield issues have alos been long debated. Especially since the reds lost dynamic midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum to Paris Saint-Germain. The midfielder has proven to be a void that Klopp has yet to fill. Many would have assumed that Guinean international Naby Keita would have been a natural successor to the Dutch midfielder. Yet, Keita hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations and the £52m fee Liverpool paid for him. Keita now looks set to leave Liverpool on a free transfer this summer. Barnes seems convinced that Keita will be seeking new pastures and does not deem it a necessary conversation during a time where the club are struggling. 

“His contract is up at the end of the year so therefore it looks like he’ll be going but that won’t be until the end of the season.” 

“Talking about his future now means nothing.” 

“It’s irrelevant.” 

“We know he’s going because he hasn’t signed a new contract so talking about it is a waste of time.”