Bannan is primarily a central midfielder but also can play as a winger. He is particularly useful with his left foot. Bannan has an abundance of skill, and a vision and passing ability that is second to none. It is these attributes that led to Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier likening him to Barcelona midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta. Houllier had only been in charge of Villa for a few weeks before saying "He is an intelligent player, he can read the game well and adapt well. I don’t think Xavi and Iniesta, who are outstanding players, are of huge size. They are intelligent, they have the skill, they have the desire – young Barry has all of that." Ian Holloway, who Bannan played under during his time at Blackpool, described him as "a beautiful footballer, absolutely lovely to watch".
Bannan's height and playing style have also led to Scotland team-mate Darren Fletcher comparing him to the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Paul Scholes. The Manchester United midfielder stated that Bannan "is in the mould of the best midfielders in the world". John Mullen, a football coach that taught Bannan as a youngster at St. Margaret's High School, said in 2010 that he was unsurprised at the success of the midfielder. He claimed that Bannan "had all the attributes you could ask for in a player", was "always motivated" and "gave a lot to the team”.
In December 2010, Houllier was again full of praise for him. He said "Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro. You can watch and wonder if they are playing in the youth team sometimes. They have fast technique and young Barry has all of that." Houllier then defended Bannan's size, and insisted it wont hold him back. Houllier said "The Premier League has got more physical but it is not about a matter of size. Obviously you need size in some positions but it's also a matter of commitment and physical commitment. Barry is competitive."
Bannan, however, claimed that former Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill had doubts over his ability due to his size.