Why Barnsley are great to watch ... but a nightmare to face - Sue Smith

Monday gave me another chance to watch Barnsley which I was really pleased about because they are a team and a club I have been so impressed with.

It is not just the turnaround from last season, when they escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth, they were even struggling at the start of 2020-21. They began with seven winless league matches before Valerien Ismael took over and are now fifth in the Championship on merit.

Good coaches simplify things and it looks like all his players know exactly what is expected of them. You can see Ismael knows what he wants to do, and how. The minimum requirement is that they work their socks off and then can they get the ball forward as quickly as possible?

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They are direct, but direct with a purpose. You can tell it is rehearsed and worked on in training.

ANOTHER LEVEL: Barnsley's Daryl Dike is congratulated after scoring the second goal Luton Town on Easter Monday at Kenilworth Road. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

At Luton Town, there was no messing around with the ball in midfield, they were looking to get it into the channels or to Cauley Woodrow, then play off him.

It annoys me when people say they are not great to watch – they are. You cannot take your eye off them because in a split second they can create a chance. I love the energy from all their players.

In the first 15 minutes or so on Monday, Luton could not get out of their own half because Barnsley were in their faces. In my first few updates on Sky Sports I said Luton were really sloppy giving the ball away but the more I thought about it, they were giving the ball away because Barnsley were pressing so well.

The players must be at the absolute peak of their fitness but more than that, they all know what they are doing. They must be a nightmare to play against.

NIGHTMARE: Luton Town's Elijah Adebayo (left) and Barnsley's Toby Sibbick battle for the ball at Kenilworth Road on EAster Monday. Picture: John Walton/PA

Barnsley have made more substitutions than any team in the league this season, and having five available has allowed them to stay energised.

As a player, you can look at it two ways. If I was playing well, I would always want to stay on but you know you can just give everything for an hour because as soon as you start to feel tired, Ismael will introduce his substitutes.

Particularly the forwards on the bench know they will come on, rather than just hope. At times when I was on the bench I was not expecting to come on and when someone goes down injured you need to quickly get prepared. That can still happen to the Barnsley subs but they are probably mentally and physically prepared to come on after an hour, and know who they will come on for.

I also like when Ismael makes his substitutions, giving his players time to affect the game.

Real deal: Barnsley loanee striker Daryl Dike. Picture: Getty Images

If you are winning you accept coming off at times when you do not want to, or being on the bench. The coaching staff must be doing a good job of making players feeling like they are contributing whether they are on for 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes. They look a happy team and a very together one.

A lot of substitutions can really disrupt a side but it seems to have a positive impact. Ismael still has a core of players to rely on more often than not but the competition for places keeps everyone fresh and hungry.

Luton got back into Monday’s game, making it 2-1 after a double save from Daryl Dike’s penalty, but even though they started throwing everything at Barnsley, I still felt the Reds would hold on. They exude confidence.

When I spoke to Ismael earlier in the season he was very charming and engaging, qualities players respond to, but he has a ruthless side, too. Those who did not meet his standards, like Luke Thomas and Elliot Simoes, were quickly loaned out.

ENGAGING: Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

All professional teams should know their jobs, but you watch some and think they do not and, instead of having a plan, they rely on things being off the cuff and an individual doing something amazing.

It is all right the managers giving you a strategy, but the players have to carry it out, and they have made some good signings under chief executive Dane Murphy.

Dike was on another level on Monday – fast, strong and intelligent. Every time he got the ball he just looked a danger. He should have got a hat-trick.

I like Alex Mowatt, named the Championship’s player of the month for March yesterday, and Woodrow.

I am sure they will make the play-offs and on paper you would think they would miss out, but if there is one thing I have learnt about them, it is that you should never underestimate Barnsley.

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