During a recent trip to the United States to promote Liverpool’s preseason tour, Reds legend John Barnes spoke to High Press Soccer about the team’s memorable ’18-19 season.
Liverpool will play July 19 vs. Borussia Dortmund at Notre Dame Stadium, July 21 vs. Sevilla at Fenway Park and July 24 vs. Sporting at Yankee Stadium.
Barnes, now a Liverpool ambassador, talked about whether before the ’18-19 season, he expected 97 points in the Premier League and a Champions League trophy, the second leg of the UCL semifinal vs. Barcelona, the team’s identity under Jürgen Klopp and more.
Liverpool John Barnes HPS Interview
HPS: Did Liverpool’s success this year surprise you?
Barnes: It did. I always felt that if we could keep our 11 players fit and healthy, then we had a chance. Man City’s got a much deeper squad. But in terms of going the whole season losing one game, I don’t think anyone would have expected that. In the English Premier League, what we’re told – and it’s true – is that all teams can beat each other. You can see some of the bottom teams taking points off the top teams.
I didn’t think that Liverpool, or any other team apart from Man City, would have been able to go through a season virtually unbeaten. It shows the togetherness and the harmony and the spirit that Jürgen Klopp has injected in the team. In the game against Barcelona, for example, where we didn’t have Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, to go through with a weaker team shows that the demand that the players are now under to perform under Klopp – regardless of whether you are one of the top players or not – means that they maximize their potential.
Next season, do I expect them to go unbeaten? No. Do I expect them to lose only one game? No. To lose one game and finish on 97 points, one point behind the champion, and win the Champions League, it was incredible.
HPS: Where does the atmosphere for the second leg of the Champions League semifinal vs. Barcelona rank in franchise history?
Barnes: In terms of the passion of the fans and the atmosphere, it’s comparable to anything in the past.
But in terms of the result, that has surpassed any other result in Liverpool history, as far as I’m concerned. Because of course we have overturned deficits, but not against a team like Barcelona, and with a depleted team as we had. And to win 4-0, not just 1-0 or 2-1 to go through, was incredible.
But the atmosphere has always been at Anfield. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that atmosphere was better than the year before or in previous years, but yeah, it was fantastic.
HPS: At what point during the second leg did you start to truly believe the Reds would go through?
Barnes: When it went to 3-0. Even at 2-0, because I really expected Barcelona to score. But looking at the nature of the game after it went 3-0 … I have to say I was disappointed in Barcelona’s response. Not in terms of their attacking, but in terms of the way they were defending and vying for the cause as a team. I’m not talking about expecting them to score, but expecting them to help out and to run around and to try defensively. It was just nonexistent. After it went to 3-0, I felt that was it.
If you look at the first game where we lost 3-0, we should never have lost 3-0. We created enough chances to score a goal, but I didn’t feel that [in the second leg] we would have been able to score four without Salah and Firmino and keep Barcelona out.
HPS: What are your impressions of Klopp, and how does he compare to the managers you played for?
Barnes: He’s completely different to Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness or Roy Evans.
Klopp has brought back an identity to Liverpool. Liverpool always had an identity in the past — the way you played, the profile of the players you had – which I think was lost, but I think he’s now brought that back. It’s a new profile because they’re Klopp-style players. He’s created a new identity which people now understand. Liverpool had been searching for an identity for too long.
It was a bit like what Manchester United are doing now. To go back and recreate an identity from years ago, you can’t do that anymore because football has changed, players have changed …
Klopp has now created a new identity at Liverpool which is synonymous with Liverpool. As much as you may say he’s only been there three years, it’s fully identifiable now. When you see Liverpool play, you know it’s a Liverpool team, you know it’s a Klopp team, you know it’s Klopp-type players.
HPS: How would you describe FSG’s impact on the club?
Barnes: Off the pitch, in terms of the stadium and what they’ve done to give them an opportunity to make the stadium bigger, they upgraded the facilities so that from a financial point of view, there’s money coming in.
On the pitch, all they’ve done is give the manager the opportunity to do whatever he wants. … They’ve supported the manager.
HPS: How do you compare Liverpool’s international fanbase right now to what it was like during your career?
Barnes: I’ve been doing this now for the last 20 years, going to Africa and different places, it’s always been huge. Of course, now [it is more publicized] because of the media attention and the fact that players are now engaging with the fans more. But in terms of the fans always being around the world – Boston, New York, Atlanta, Australia – they’ve always been there. What’s happening now is the club is making a concerted effort to engage with them by having the ex-players go out to a lot of the events.
Before, the fans were always there, they were watching on television, but there wasn’t that connectivity and interaction between the club and the fans. That’s the biggest difference; they’re now connecting with fans all over the world.