Glen Johnson on Liverpool: “If they don’t improve soon then their title prospects could vanish”
On Sunday, Liverpool blew a 2-1 lead away to Brighton & Hove Albion resulting in them leaving the Amex with one point instead of three. This result followed their controversial away defeat to Tottenham Hotspur the previous weekend and now Jürgen Klopp’s men are three points behind Arsenal and Premier League leaders Tottenham. Despite it only being a small gap at present, ex-Liverpool defender Glen Johnson believes that his former club’s title hopes could soon vanish if they continue to leak goals at the back. Glen also spoke to Betfred regarding why he hopes Chelsea sign Ivan Toney in January, why he doesn’t believe that Jarrod Bowen would be able to fill Mo Salah’s boots at Anfield and why Mason Mount could be regretting his summer move to Manchester United.
From what you saw in their 2-2 draw against Brighton, do you believe Liverpool can win the Premier League when they look as defensively fragile as they were?
“No. Any team that wins the league obviously deserves it over the course of the season. It’s not an easy thing to do, so Liverpool need all their top players performing and you can’t be leaking two goals a game, which has become a regular occurrence for them at present. You can’t win the league with that sort of form.
“You don’t lose your class overnight, so everybody’s expecting Liverpool to improve but considering the way that some of the other teams are looking at the moment, if they don’t improve soon then their title prospects could vanish.”
Alexis Mac Allister was once again deployed in a deeper role in Liverpool’s midfield against Brighton and he struggled against his former club. Is he completely wasted in that position?
“Yes he is. All the top teams have a player that can perform in that anchor position. It’s a luxury that the top teams can afford to have and to shape the team, I think everybody needs that.
“Mac Allister is very good going forward in terms of goal threats and creativity but he’s not a number six, he’s not a [Claude] Makélélé.
“You have to do what your team needs you to do at the time, but I definitely think Alexis is more productive going forward and Liverpool need a player that can operate in that role more naturally.”
Do you believe there’s a midfielder in Liverpool’s squad already that could do that role better than Mac Allister?
“Yes. The staff at Liverpool see these boys training everyday so they know who is capable of playing out of position more than us. However, I believe that [Dominik] Szoboszlai is one of the best all-rounders in that team currently and is possibly better suited to performing that duty than Mac Allister.
“He probably doesn’t want to do that role either, but I think he’s certainly got the legs to protect the back four more than Alexis.”
After Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City on Sunday, do you believe the Gunners are now the favourites to win the Premier League title this season?
“I’ve got to say that I believe that Manchester City are still the favourites to win the Premier League title this season, but Arsenal keep improving and surprising everyone. The victory was such a big win for them psychologically and it’s going to give their players plenty of belief. They’re super confident, they have a bloody good side and they don’t look like they’re slowing down at the moment.
“Even when they were close to winning the league title last season, most people thought it was a flash in the pan and they wouldn’t be able to sustain that level of performance going into the new season, but they have done and they’re probably better now than they were last year.
“I think we’ve all got to take Arsenal very seriously now. The biggest thing about that win is not the three points, but the physiological impact of the victory and how it’s going to impact them going forward.”
Which two other teams do you believe will join Arsenal and Manchester City in the top four at the end of the season?
“To be honest, I’ve been very surprised by Tottenham. I didn’t see this coming, but they’ve clearly turned a corner.
“Obviously, it’s been disappointing for Chelsea in terms of the way they’ve started the season and against Liverpool I thought they looked really, really good but that was a long time ago now, so they’re in that position in the league for a reason.
“I believe Liverpool will finish in the top four and Tottenham don’t look like they’re going to slow down either, so maybe it will be Liverpool and Tottenham that join Manchester City and Arsenal in the top four come the end of the season.”
Liverpool, along with Arsenal and Aston Villa, are said to be interested in Wolves winger Pedro Neto. Do you believe he’s capable of standing out for one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs?
“I do believe he could have an impact at one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. He’s a natural left-footer, he’s very direct and he likes to push defenders back. He seems to have the whole package and obviously he’s very quick as well, so I can definitely see him playing for one of the big teams in the future.”
Out of all the clubs currently linked with Pedro Neto, which club do you believe needs him most?
“Out of all the clubs currently linked with him, Liverpool are probably the team that need him the least. Liverpool already have Mo Salah, Luis Díaz, Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota at their disposal, so I don’t know how much game time he would get at Anfield, but he could definitely get game time at Arsenal in my opinion.
“Arsenal would benefit from that kind of explosive player and they probably thought they had that when they signed [Nicolas] Pépé. I think Neto would be better suited to Arsenal than Liverpool.”
Neto’s Portuguese compatriot Goncalo Inacio is also linked with a move to Anfield at present. Do you believe that Liverpool need to add another centre-back to their ranks?
“I don’t know if they need another centre-back at the moment. It may just be a case of them finding a way of getting the players they’ve already got to spark themselves back into life.
“They’ve got three or four decent players in that area of the squad already, but maybe a new signing will kick them up the backside a bit and make them realise that they’re not going to play every week if they’re not performing.
“Some of their centre-backs will be assuming that they’re going to play every week, regardless of form, and that makes it difficult for them to raise their level of performance. Sometimes a new signing can just rally everyone and get the current players bouncing back to their best form. Considering their high standards, many of them are underperforming currently.”
Despite signing a new seven-year contract at West Ham United, do you believe that Jarrod Bowen should be considered as a successor for Mo Salah at Liverpool if the Egypt international is to leave Anfield in the near future?
“I’m not sure because I don’t know if he possesses what’s needed to kick onto the next level. He’s evidently been playing well for West Ham and scoring goals, but to suggest that he can replace Mo Salah at Liverpool is a completely different league. That’s not a criticism of Jarrod, but they would be huge shoes to fill and I personally believe he’s currently at his level with West Ham United.
“I believe that Liverpool need to be looking at the top, top players to replace Mo Salah and I don’t think that Jarrod would be an adequate replacement for him if he was to leave Liverpool next summer. Jarrod’s playing really well at the moment and is clearly enjoying his football, so if he continues to do well for West Ham then I believe a few of the top clubs will be keeping an eye on him.”
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané are two players in particular that weren’t necessarily deemed ‘world-class’ before moving to Anfield and they developed into two of the world’s best players under the stewardship of Jürgen Klopp. Do you believe Bowen could hit those heights too if he worked under Jürgen Klopp?
“He could definitely improve under Jürgen Klopp, but he doesn’t have the same level of class that Mo Salah and Sadio Mané possess. For that reason, I can’t see Jarrod getting to their level and I’m saying that more as a credit to Mo and Sadio rather than being critical of Jarrod because I believe he’s a very good player.”
After an impressive second half showing against Burnley, do you believe this Chelsea side is beginning to take shape under Mauricio Pochettino?
“Yes, absolutely. They’ve shown a lot of character to bounce back from their early season form and hopefully scoring four goals away from home is an indication that they’re going to start climbing the league table over the next few games. With the players they’ve got at their disposal, Chelsea should definitely not be sat in mid-table.”
Raheem Sterling got on the scoresheet against Burnley and put in a mighty impressive performance at Turf Moor. Was this the perfect response to not being called up to the current England squad? Do you believe he will play his way back into that squad in time for Euro 2024?
“Yes, I think he will. Raz is a fantastic player, but sometimes he can suffer from a lack of confidence every now and then. When he gets back to basics and starts driving at defenders, then you’re getting the old Raheem back.
“To see him getting back on the scoresheet was a nice response to not being called up to the England squad and it’s going to give Gareth [Southgate] something to think about. All of England’s fans will want to see Raheem on the plane, but he’s going to have to bounce back and find some form to be a part of that.”
Do you believe that Armando Broja could be the number nine that Chelsea are crying out for at present? He scored against Fulham just over a week ago, but followed that up by being dragged off at half-time against Burnley but in your opinion, do you believe he has the potential to be a top forward for Chelsea?
“Yes, I think he could potentially become a top player for Chelsea. He’s got age on his side, he’s a very good technical player and he’s calm and composed in front of goal, which is something you need if you’re going to be a striker for a top team. He’s yet to hit the heights, but he’s young and definitely worth having as an option for Chelsea and it’s better than them spending an awful lot of money on somebody else.”
Another player that was very good against Burnley was Enzo Fernández, who was influential in Chelsea’s midfield. Do you believe he’s capable of becoming the best midfielder in the Premier League? Is there any player past or present that he reminds you of?
“On his day, he’s absolutely fantastic. There’s been a couple of performances where he looks like the real deal and he reminds me a bit of Javier Mascherano in the sense that he’s tenacious and loves that extra bit of responsibility. If he can maintain his current level of performance, then he can certainly become one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.”
Cole Palmer, who stepped up for the penalty to put his side 2-1 ahead against Burnley, was also very impressive on Saturday. Are Manchester City going to regret selling Cole in your opinion and are you confident he will be a top, top player for Chelsea?
“The fact that he was able to take the penalty against Burnley shows the belief that his teammates have in him. Despite being so young, they’ve given him the responsibility to take the penalties and that highlights that he must have a very cool head on him. He’s banging in a few goals, so Manchester City may regret letting him go, but would Cole have got this opportunity if he was still at City? Probably not, so I believe he’s made the right decision by joining Chelsea. If he keeps on banging in goals, then of course Manchester City are going to regret letting him go.”
Marc Cucurella came under criticism for his performance at the weekend, with his mistake leading to the opener for Burnley. Do you believe he has any chance of having a successful spell at Stamford Bridge or do you believe his time is almost up?
“His time at Chelsea has definitely not gone as well as he would have liked, but I still see flashes of hope for him to be a success at Stamford Bridge. Any player can make mistakes and he’s a player that I like. He has some class and he just needs to stop making mistakes, find some form soon, start enjoying his football and then you will get the best out of him. However, the more mistakes you make then the more confidence you’re going to lose. He’s been at Chelsea for quite a long time now and he needs to find some form soon, otherwise people are going to continue to question his future at the club.”
The Guardian have claimed that Chelsea are interested in bringing either Napoli’s Victor Osimhen or Brentford’s Ivan Toney to Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window. Which striker would you prefer your former club to sign?
“Profile-wise, I’d say Ivan Toney. I love the way he plays and I like the fact that he’s already been successful in the Premier League. He’s performed in the Premier League over the past few seasons and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be a flash in the pan. I believe he could be the dynamic striker that Chelsea need and he’s only going to improve with better players around him.”
After his first Premier League goal for Chelsea against Fulham last week, are you backing Mykhailo Mudryk to start realising his potential at Stamford Bridge?
“Flair players and attackers need to score goals, be willing to get themselves in the right positions and be prepared to miss because you will miss a lot less when your confidence is high. It’s great for him that he’s finally on the scoresheet in the Premier League and he can’t allow himself to rest on this because he needs to continue scoring and creating goals.
“It’s evident that Mykhailo has a lot to offer and now that he’s got his first goal, he will hopefully have the confidence to kick on even more.”
In your honest opinion, do you believe Mason Mount will be regretting his move to Manchester United?
“At the moment he will be. Manchester United are a very big football club, but you don’t join them in the expectation that you’re going to be part of a team that’s tenth in the Premier League. You only want to go there to challenge for major honours, and I know that Chelsea aren’t in a better position at this very moment, but you don’t move to Old Trafford in the expectation that you’re going to struggle. I don’t know why he decided to leave Chelsea, but I’m sure he’s questioning his decision at this very moment.”
If you were to make a prediction, do you believe Erik ten Hag will see out the season as Manchester United’s manager?
“I believe he will see out the season as Manchester United manager because he’s still relatively new in the role and he was the man they really wanted. There’s clearly a long-term plan in place but again, it’s Manchester United and you’re not going to get too much time. If they finish the season in the position that they’re in right now, then he will come under a serious amount of pressure, but if they can begin to start seeing some progress soon then he will be given more time. Their league position really needs to improve over the next few weeks.”
Considering the struggles that André Onana has faced so far during his time at Old Trafford, do you believe that Manchester United were too hasty to release David de Gea in the summer?
“Top goalkeepers are hard to find and towards the end of his time at Manchester United, David de Gea had his faults but he was overall still a top player. You don’t become a bad player overnight, so if David was given the time to regain his confidence then Manchester United would have had a top player on their hands again.
“Onana looks like he can be a decent player but these mistakes are obviously going to dent his confidence and the top, top players don’t make many mistakes. Time will tell if it was the right decision to replace De Gea with Onana, but I would have stuck with the former for a bit longer if the decision was up to me.”
Who do you believe has been the Premier League’s signing of the season so far?
“I really like Nicolas Jackson at Chelsea. He started very well before tailing off a bit, but I still believe he has a lot to offer and he can potentially become one of the best signings this season. There are a number of summer signings that have started well, but nobody that’s excited me as much as Nicolas Jackson.”
Considering his retirement from football today at the age of 32, for you, is Eden Hazard one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players?
“Yes, absolutely. When he was on, he was on. He was super quick and when he was on fire, he was unstoppable. He will go down as one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players and that’s saying something when you consider some of the players that Chelsea have had during their most successful periods. It’s however a huge shame that his career has ended so early.”