This was not how things were supposed to finish for Harvey Barnes.
If last campaign was his breakout season, this was the year that he flirted with being a Premier League superstar. Now, thanks to a knee injury he picked up against Arsenal at the end of February, he could feasibly be forced to watch from the stands as the club he has been at since a youngster wins their first ever FA Cup and secures Champions League football.
Prior to his injury, Barnes was the Foxes' key man. Starting with a fine strike in his side's 2-2 draw with Manchester United on Boxing Day, Barnes managed six goals and three assists in the Premier League after Christmas.
Some of his contributions were decisive as well. With Leicester 1-0 down against bogey team Crystal Palace, Barnes scrapped his way through a crowd of red and blue shirts before firing a left-footed drive into the bottom corner with seven minutes to play. In addition, his clinical strike in the Foxes' 3-1 win over Liverpool in February killed the game off.
His electric winter form even positioned him as an outsider to make England's Euro 2020 squad and the fact that Gareth Southgate can now take 26 players would have strengthened Barnes' case. Yet, instead of jetting off around the continent in the summer, Barnes will be working hard behind the scenes, quietly plotting to come back stronger than ever next season.The only possible roadblock to his return will be finding a place for him to slot into Brendan Rodgers' new 3-4-1-2 formation. Previously in the season Barnes had been the Foxes principal threat playing as a left winger in a 4-2-3-1. However, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy emerging as the best Premier League strike duo since Sutton and Shearer likely means that Rodgers will proceed with two up front as his go-to system next season.
Thus, there appears to be two potential positions that Barnes could play. One possibility is wing-back. He certainly possesses the physicality to excel in the role but lumbering a player of his influence with too much defensive responsibility is not ideal.
An alternative could be converting the wide-man into a central striker. This makes sense for a lot of reasons.
Most notably, Leicester are known to be on the lookout for Vardy's long term successor. Although the 34-year-old is far from a busted flush there is a growing feeling among the Foxes' faithful that his recent fitness problems may have tempered some of his explosiveness and clinical edge.
Rather than dipping into a complicated transfer market this summer, Leicester may already have a ready made Vardy alternative in Barnes. The similarities between the pair are clear. Both possess blistering pace and are not afraid to engage defenders physically.
Fearlessness also runs through each player like a stick of rock. One of the most enduring things about Barnes is his refreshingly direct dribbling, a trait he seems to have plucked straight out of Vardy's play book.
Finishing wise there is similarities as well. Barnes was once considered reckless in front of goal but this season he has improved markedly. During the 2019/2020 campaign he underperformed his xG by 2.7, with only six Premier League players faring worse.
This time out he has made the most of his chances, outperforming his xG by 2.8 - the 13th best figure in the division. Vardy is one of the many players he has beaten in the finishing stakes, with the numbers suggesting that he should have had a full five more goals than he has managed so far.
Taking a closer at Leicester's current system gives further hope of a smooth transition for the 23-year-old. More then ever before Vardy has been pulling wide to compensate for his side's lack of out and out wingers. Because of this Barnes could still cut in from the left as he has done so effectively over the past few seasons.
It all sounds very promising but Foxes fans should accept that the potential change is likely to come with a few teething problems. Barnes certainly did not look too comfortable when leading the line against Arsenal earlier in the season with Vardy having to come on and save the day. Saying that, with Iheanacho acting as a foil and Rodgers tweaking his game on the training field, there is nothing to stop him reinventing himself as an explosive centre-forward
Source : 90min