The value of Gareth Barry.

Posted on May 26, 2010


There has been a lot of talk about who Gareth Barry’s replacement should be if he cannot recover from his injury. Capello is even willing to give him all the time he needs to recover, indicating that he is a key player for England. I thought I would write an article about why Barry is key to how England play, focusing on his defensive duties.

In this brilliant article , Zonal Marking outlines the England 442 and the role of each player. To summarize Zonal Marking’s analysis:

The modifications to the system basically start with Steven Gerrard . England have notoriously not had a decent left-winger for decades, and Gerrard fills this role by playing very narrow, always looking to come inside and link with Wayne Rooney. His narrow position means that Leighton Baines ( to be replaced by Ashley Cole for the World Cup) has license to get forward on the overlap, and the fact that Gerrard has drawn his marker inside has opened up a lot of space for Baines to exploit here – he has a 15-20 yard band of space all to himself on the left.

Against Mexico, Milner played where Barry normally plays and did not manage to replicate the role because he is a very different kind of player.


Gareth Barry is a primarily left footed central midfielder who can play as a left-back or as a left midfielder. It is this versatility that makes him crucial to the England squad. As shown in the Zonal Marking article, England play a lopsided 442 system, with Gerrard cutting in from the left. This cutting in creates space for the leftback to push forward. It is usually Barry’s role to cover for the left back (a position he has played before). The movement of the 3 left sided players is shown below.


This requires Barry to play deeper than his central midfield partner(usually Lampard) and be very disciplined, not pushing forward when the left back does. This is where Milner failed against Mexico as his strength is in making runs from midfield and he did not play deep enough or with enough discipline to perform The Barry Role. Carrick is a good holder but he is not good at moving into wide positions and covering the fullback so he cant be used the same way as Barry. A big part of the England strategy is to allow the left back to overlap and exploit the space created by Gerrard cutting in. For this to happen someone must cover for the leftback. Neither Milner or Carrick are suited to this role so the whole system was disjointed.

Of course Barry performs other roles in the team, such as engaging the opposition’s central attacking midfielders but it is Barry’s ability to protect the fullback that makes him special, and why England will be sweating over his fitness.