On Arsenal vs Liverpool
I think that Liverpool would have known that Arsenal would have been looking to get off to a fast start, which is something that they’ve done in recent matches. Arsenal have scored early in each of the last four games, so Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t have needed his data analyst to tell him what was coming.
Jurgen Klopp plays the same style every single week, in very much the same way Unai Emery does with Aston Villa. Regardless of the opposition, Villa play with a high line and Jurgen does the same thing. I think the first Arsenal goal is a consequence of Liverpool’s high defensive line.
Something had to give. Arsenal were at it from the off, Liverpool played their style. I didn’t really see enough from Liverpool in the game to win it. I don’t think their overall cohesion, confidence and tempo really threatened Arsenal over the course of the game. It was a fair result in the end.
Are Arsenal in the title race?
Are Arsenal in the title race? I think they very much are. We’re just over the halfway stage of the season, and European football will be back on the menu in a blink of an eye. Today Arsenal are in the title race, and I think there are only two other teams in it: Manchester City and Liverpool.
Did this match tell us anything we didn’t already know about both sides?
The result highlighted that Liverpool are fallible. I don’t think anyone wrote Liverpool off after the first five or six games of the season, but they weren’t super consistent with their performances. They’ve gone on a run recently where they’ve been creating lots of chances and scoring lots of goals. Connor Bradley and other youngsters have been getting minutes and all of a sudden people are saying that there are some new talents coming up from the academy and everything is rosy in the garden.
I don’t think anyone would compare this Liverpool team to the one that won the Premier League. Most of those players are a few years older and, as demonstrated by the van Dijk and Alison mistake for Arsenal’s second goal, they are also human. Virgil van Dijk has only really started to put in the type of stellar performances that we’ve come to expect from him over the last eight or nine games.
Who stood out on the day?
I thought that Declan Rice was sensational. He has been magnificent since he joined the club, and he will be a really important player for England at the European Championships in the summer. His positional play to snuff out danger is exceptional. He was ably supported by Jorginho yesterday, who probably produced one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt on Sunday evening.
Often pundits will be asked, what is the most important battle to win on the pitch. It’s always the midfield and Arsenal won the battle in there; Declan Rice and Jorginho were much better than their Liverpool counterparts.
Was it the perfect result for Manchester City?
I still think Manchester City are going to win the Premier League by eight or nine points. I’ve said that since match day one and I think the reason for that is, Arsenal haven’t proven that they can last the distance with eight or so games remaining.
Liverpool are creaking around the edges. Some of their most important players are getting a little bit older, while the younger players in the squad haven’t quite had the time to hit the ground running yet or have the experience.
Manchester City, who were casually crowned Club World Champions in the winter, have just won six games back-to-back and have Erling Haaland ready to return to the first team and a recently fit Kevin De Bruyne, who is playing like the best creative midfielder in the world again. If that’s not a persuasive enough argument that City are the favourites to retain the title, then nothing is.
Can Arsenal win it? Yes, I think they can, but it will take City to lose two or three players to give Arsenal a chance.
Can Liverpool win it? Yes, they can. I think they probably have three or four more games like the Arsenal game in them, which would preclude them from winning the title.
Manchester City are ruthless. They are scoring threes and fours. If the league came down to goal difference, they are scoring enough goals to win the title.
From a title race perspective, I’m delighted to say that in February, we have a live three team title race.
Celebration police is a nonsense, but I understand why it offends pundits like Carragher
There are a generation of pundits like Jamie Carragher that all played around the same time, and these guys have been brought up with a set of ideals that go against a lot of what modern players do and how they behave after a victory.
Over-celebrating is just one of the things that is frowned upon. If a player wore coloured boots, that was frowned upon for example. Talking to your opponent in the tunnel before you’re about to play each other. Anything that is the perception of weakness. Carragher, Keane, Neville, these guys come from a show no mercy era.
I’m sat on the fence with it. I see it from both sides of the coin. Football is an entertainment business at the end of the day, so if Odegaard wants to celebrate with the cameraman and the crowd enjoys it, so be it. I do get the gag-reflex that some players have towards so called over-celebrating.
If I was playing now, those kinds of antics wouldn’t bother me. I think that is very much the way that younger players express themselves.
I understand old-school players saying how ridiculous it is. The reason they are so offended by it is because they would have taken a bollocking for doing that kind of thing in the dressing room; they would have been chewed up
Jurgen Klopp beats his chest after Liverpool win at home and whips up the crowd. Is there a difference between him doing that and Odegaard messing about and taking pictures with the club cameraman? I don’t there is any whatsoever.
I have to ask you about Darwin Nunez. What are your thoughts on the Liverpool number nine?
When you watch him play, you think he can look a bit rough around the edges. When you think of centre forwards that are six-foot plus, you typically think of aerial ability, strength, holding the ball up and bringing others into the game. I think that Darwin can do all of those things, but the problem he has is that he plays in a very dynamic Liverpool team.
The issue that he has is that he’s expected to play down the middle and play the sort of rock and roll football that Jurgen likes to play, and he’s being asked to do things that maybe don’t come that naturally to him. There are certain parts of the strikers role that he hasn’t quite mastered yet. When you watch him play, you’re almost expecting him to trip over the ball at times or to miss a sitter, so the question is will he be able to eradicate that from his game and find the composure to become one of the best strikers in the world?
It will be interesting to see what a new coach does with him and how they plan on using. A new coach will have his own playing style and favourite players, so he may not be fancied by the next manager.
I think Darwin is doing enough at the moment. We know he can change games for Liverpool and there is no doubt that in fits and spells in games, he can cause the opposition all kinds of problems. He has looked dynamic and caused damage. Is he a natural centre forward in terms of having that coldness and composure in front of goal like a Fernando Torres was? I don’t think he is. He is more of an uncut diamond that is unpredictable.
His goals to game ratio and his ability make an impact suggest that there is plenty more to come from him at Liverpool.
How does he add composure to his game? That killer instinct?
A lot will depend on who the next Liverpool manager is. Liverpool have typically played a 433 under Klopp and I don’t think that will change when the new man comes in because they have got an abundance of riches in the attacking positions.
In terms of his place, he is a nine. It’s strange that of the two players that Liverpool have signed as strikers, neither Cody Gapko nor Darwin Nunez have the level of composure you would want from a striker that is going to win you the Premier League.
Gapko is lucky that he can play in a number of roles, but when you look at his physicality, he should really be playing as a number nine. Like Darwin, I think he can look a bit ungainly. If you’re goals to game ratio is good, then nobody will care if you slip up in the six-yard box or miss a sitter.
Due to Liverpool’s supporting cast of forwards, players like Diaz, Salah, Jota, they will always create chances and they will always score goals. The performances of Gapko and Nunez can be overlooked because the chances they are not taking are not having a detrimental impact on the team.
That could change under a new manager. If the next manager comes in and doesn’t want to change anything, then both Nunez and Gapko will get the requisite number of goals.
If all of a sudden, Liverpool are looking to play on the counter-attack, and Nunez is missing half of the one-on-one chances he’s getting in games, then it’s a different conversation.
I think Liverpool get away with any individual strikers faults because everybody chips in. If they become reliant on one player to get them the majority of their goals, which could happen with a change of tactics, then I think they may have a problem.
Klopp’s behind Paisley and Shankly in legendary pantheon of Liverpool managers
I think Jurgen Klopp goes into the list of Liverpool managerial legends at third, behind Paisley and Shankly.
Shankly created what is now Liverpool football club. Yes, Liverpool were a big city club beforehand, but they were also in the second division, and he created a modern ideal. He wanted them to be a foreboding team. He changed the kit to all red. He turned Liverpool into a winning machine.
When they were playing in Europe, he pleaded with the supporters to understand why Liverpool had to change their tactics, because they were getting done by teams who were playing possession football. They accepted that and, in many ways, he was babysitting a football club into the modern era. It cannot be understated what Shankly did at Liverpool.
Bob Paisley, nobody gets close. He is absolutely one of, if not, the best British manager ever. Winning three European Cups on the bounce and God knows how many titles.
Klopp gets in front of Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalgleish because he oversaw a rebuild at Liverpool Football Club. Look at the team he inherited. Look at some of the players that were signed under Kenny and latterly Roy Hodgson, guys like Paul Konchesky…Liverpool were really struggling. The club didn’t have an identity.
I can remember when Alberto Aquilani joined the club. He had a banner on the Kop before he played. Players that have a banner on the Kop have had to achieve something wearing the red of Liverpool. Alberto Aquilani, who didn’t have a great time at Liverpool, had a banner on the Kop before he had even put on the shirt. I can remember thinking to myself ‘the supporters are now so desperate for heroes; they’re giving them the big up before they’ve played’.
Jurgen Klopp changed that mentality among the fan base. He was effectively Shankly 2.0. He oversaw a rebuild and the biggest compliment that you could pay him was that if you were a fan of a team going to Anfield, you knew that you would be in for a very difficult afternoon.
When you walk through the door at Liverpool, the expectation is that you have to win something because that is what Liverpool have historically done. When you win the first Premier League trophy in thirty years. When you win the Champions League, FA Cup and the League Cup, you follow in that tradition of Liverpool football club being competitive at the pointy end of the season and he did that. He delivered. Paisley, Shankly, Jurgen Klopp.
Xabi Alonso is perfect man to replace Klopp
If you’re looking around at some of the other potential candidates to replace Klopp, you have to think what are Liverpool looking for? Xabi Alonso has an emotional connection with supporters that the other names linked to the job don’t have.
He gave a generation of Liverpool fans a lot of joy, which will give you a bit of leeway as a Liverpool manager. Is he doing it in the here and now? Absolutely. His Leverkusen team are twenty games unbeaten and sat at the top of the Bundesliga. I don’t think anyone was expecting them to mount a serious challenge for the German title this year, but that is what they are doing, and they have also been impressive in the Europa League.
From a technical-perspective, and I’ve seen a lot of his team play this season, the suggestion seems to be that Leverkusen play more of a tiki-taka possession-based game, which fans can find to be a bit boring, especially after you’ve had the very sexy rock and roll football of Jurgen Klopp.
I think Alonso is an obvious choice. He would be a young, ambitious manager going into a club with a brilliant structure around him. He has that emotional connection with the fans and understands the city and the club. He is doing the business in real-time at a big club in Germany.
Looking beyond Alonso, Thomas Tuchel and Hansi Flick are probably going to be mentioned, but they would have to get it right from the first second they walk in because Klopp has set the bar so high.
Alonso is obviously a winner. He obviously has the ability to pick a team and communicate his instructions perfectly with his players. I think he should be at the front of the queue for the Liverpool job. I don’t think anyone else massively sticks out for me. There isn’t a 2004 Jose Mourinho type of candidate or a Pep Guardiola coming back off a sabbatical. Alonso looks to be the outstanding choice.
On Aston Villa
Reaction to Sheffield United vs Aston Villa
I was at the home defeat to Newcastle, and it was bad. It was the first time in a while that I gave some thought to the notion that the wheels may be starting tom fall off Villa’s Premier League form.
Newcastle did a number on Villa. They did exactly the same thing that Villa did to Manchester City earlier on in the season; they were outthought and out fought. They were better in every single department.
From my perspective, I had this one down as a marginal Villa win. We drew with Sheffield United at home over the Christmas period, so there were a few little doubts (about what type of Villa would show up).
To go there and to play on the front foot, with the kind of energy that we did, with players that were poor last time out delivering eight and nine out-of-ten performances, I was very pleased. Douglas Luiz was magnificent. John McGinn. Ollie Watkins. Ezri Konsa. They all had a great game.
It was an excellent performance that was needed.
Villa can finish in the top four
I don’t think finishing in the top three was realistic, especially because the teams that are in those positions, are there because they have the best players, the best squads and are the most settled football clubs.
Aston Villa have been able to benefit from a sh** Chelsea, an average Manchester United and a Werst Ham side that haven’t been able to back up performances from the last couple of seasons. Newcastle and Brighton haven’t been great. I think that Villa fans know we’re taking advantage of the fact that these teams haven’t been at it this season.
What can this Villa team achieve? I think we can finish in the top four and are good enough to do it. When I look at the teams that have finished there in recent seasons that have punched above their weight, then I think that this Villa side is more than a match and better in a lot of respects to the Newcastle side that finished fourth last season.
Unai Emery is a proven winner. He has won an awful lot of European competitions ad has experience managing some huge clubs. He will ask questions of his players throughout the latter part of the season that will keep them on their toes.
The only issue that Villa have is depth. If they lose a player like Ollie Watkins and John McGinn at the same time, or if they lose Ezri Konsa or Emi Martinez then they are going to struggle. I think the squad can handle the absence of one of these players, but if they lost two of them at the same time then I would start to worry.
Weekend fixture against Manchester United is huge for Villa’s top four chances
It’s a big opportunity for Villa to put some daylight between themselves and Manchester United, but at the same time, despite some of their performances and the circus that exists around Manchester United, you would be a fool to write them off.
If Aston Villa can win the match, then I think they have a magnificent chance of finishing fourth this season, but at the same time, if United beat Villa, then I would say they are just as likely to pip us to the fourth position. What could have been a nine-point lead for Villa is cut to just three and the belief that United would take from beating Villa at Villa Park, a team that comprehensively blew Manchester City away at the same venue a few months ago, would be massive for the remainder of the season.
It's a massive game for Villa. If we win it, then Unai Emery can really sell the idea of finishing fourth to his players in the dressing room. Ditto Erik ten Hag.
I think Villa will blow them away, Stan
I would like to think that we can. I hope that we will blow Manchester United away. My one concern is that we know that Unai Emery will set his team up to play in exactly the same way regardless of the opposition.
I do worry about the space being afforded to players like Marcus Rashford, Hojlund and Garnacho, who will be able to run in behind the Villa line. It could be one of those game where Villa walk away winning 3-1 or we get done by four or five, which seems mad saying it out loud because of how good Aston Villa have been this season.
I worry about the phycological damage that could happen to Aston Villa if Manchester United put a few away.
With around a third of the season left to play, with Hojliund starting to find some momentum, it would be so typical of Manchester United securing that fourth spot after everyone has been talking about Tottenham or Aston Villa taking it this season. It’s a massive game.
On John McGinn
I think that John McGinn is definitely in the conversation when we’re talking about the best midfielders in the Premier League. I think his performances against Manchester City was the best individual midfield performance that we’ve seen in the Premier League this season. He sticks his arse into you – very much like Kenny Dalgleish used to do – and that is so hard to stop when it happens; it’s so hard for any player to get the ball off him.
McGinn, he leans forward, and you can’t get the ball off him. He twisted and turned against Manchester City; he created chances. He is a much-loved player at Aston Villa. The supporters adore him. The ownership values his importance to the team, he signed a new long-term contract recently, so will be making good money.
I think he will have thought about whether a move to a Manchester City, Manchester United or a Liverpool would be good for him. Would he play every week? I think he knows that he can achieve his ambitions with a progressive Aston Villa. I can’t see him having his head turned by bigger clubs or see him knocking on the managers door asking for a move to a bigger club. He seems very settled at Aston Villa. He gets his head down and concentrates on his football.
I think he has been sublime since he joined the club. He did take a little bit of stick last season under Steven Gerrard – a lot of players did. Ollie Watkins, Tyrone Mings, they also had a bit of a rough time, and I think some of the Villa fans took out their frustrations on the players rather than the manager and his tactical approach to playing the game.
He’s been a revelation. He’s a lovely lad and he does all of the good things away from the pitch. As a Villa fan, you’re proud to have a player like him. I don’t think he’ll go anywhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw out the rest of his top flight career at Aston Villa.
Douglas Luiz could end up leaving the club
I think Douglas is a player that could end up moving on from Villa. I know that he has been linked with a move to Arsenal over the last few transfer windows, and I think he would suit them perfectly. He can hold onto the ball very well. He is calm, he doesn’t rush things and has fantastic ability on the ball. I can see him fitting into a midfield alongside Rice and Odegaard seamlessly.
He would be a perfect player for Arsenal. It remains to be seen whether Arsenal come back in for him. It wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, and I wouldn’t begrudge him that move because he has been brilliant for Villa. As long as the club had someone waiting in the wings that was ready to fill the void if a player like Douglas Luiz would leave, and Villa got the requisite fee for him, then I wouldn’t have a problem with (him moving).
I have been fairly critical of him in the past. I didn’t think he had the ability to play as a holding midfielder, but in the system that Unai plays, where he plays a little bit further forward, his calmness on the ball is very good. He is a player that doesn’t get flustered.
What can you tell us about Morgan Rodgers?
The first thing to note is that Aston Villa’s recruitment has been very good over the last few years, and they’ve been following Rogers for a while now. He’s a local lad – he comes from the Midlands – so he shouldn’t have any issues settling in.
He is a dynamic player. He has the ability to beat players and he has a lot of years in front of him. He is a player that Villa will want to develop and if everything goes well, then he could become a key player in a couple of seasons time.
He is an attacking player that should suit Emery’s tactics. He likes to take the game to his opponent and has the ability to go past people, so he should fit into the team well. I think he is a player that should look to follow the example of Leon Bailey; grow into the team, make things happen and score goals. Mousa Diaby has done the same thing.
He joins a very attacking team and an attacking group of players. £15 million isn’t chicken feed for a player playing in the Championship, so they’ve been watching him develop carefully and felt confident in his ability to wrap-up a deal pretty quickly. He looks like a player to watch over the coming seasons.
You cannot blame Graham Potter for what happened at Chelsea last season, and you cannot blame Mauricio Pochettino for what is happening at Chelsea this season.
Todd Boehly has been so naive. The idea that you can buy the best young players in the world and turn them into a cohesive football team is absolutely laughable. There is of course a delicious irony there because Chelsea Football Club, since the Abramovich era, had at one stage Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah and Romelu Lukaku at the club as young players. They could have put those guys into the first team and developed them, but after a handful of appearances, they were sent out on loan.
Boehly’s idea of buying the world’s best young players and let them grow into a team was never, ever going to work in the toughest league in the world. It is rank idiocy. It can’t be done. Why can’t it be done? Because you need experienced players in a squad. Young players’ form will always fluctuate.
It doesn’t matter if your Poch or Potter, no one knows if any of these young players are going to be good enough. We don’t know if Mudryk will be good enough.
For Chelsea to be competitive, they need five or six experienced players that are the pillars of their starting eleven. You can then bring in four or five younger players to work alongside them, because young players performances will always go up and down.
The problem that Chelsea have is that all of these young players are learning on the job with every single game, and they are doing that while delivering inconsistent performances week-in, week-out. Therein lies the problem with Chelsea Football Club: you’ve got inexperienced youngsters, learning from inexperienced youngsters. All the youngsters are going to pick-up bad habits from each other. Their confidence levels are going to go up and down from week to week, and they don’t have the ingrained habits and the discipline all winning teams possess in terms of putting in consistent performances.
Chelsea look like a Mickey Mouse club at the moment. I think they would be daft to sack Poch. He has a very good track record working with young players if he’s given the opportunity.
The problem is that they have a spoilt fanbase that are now crying for Jose Mourinho to come back. I’m just imagining a dream team of Jose Mourinho, assisted by Frank Lampard in some kind of sporting director role and John Terry as the head of the academy (laughs).
Chelsea fans have been spoilt. The fans need to forget about finishing in the top four for the next season or so and they need to give Poch the opportunity to sign three or four proven players over the age of twenty-seven that have got the bottle to play for Chelsea Football Club and deliver eight or nine out-of-ten performances each week while helping the youngsters develop.
Crystal Palace need to twist with Roy
I think Roy was always going to be a temporary measure until the right coach came along for Crystal Palace. They’ve tried the exciting appointments before with Patrick Vieira and Frank de Boer and it hasn’t worked out, but what you can say is that Crystal Palace have massively under-performed in the Premier League era. They’ve only got into the top ten once, which, when you consider the players that are on their doorstep in south London in terms of young talent, really isn’t good enough.
They haven’t punched their weight as a team or a club. Would Graham Potter take it? I think he would be a very good fit for Palace and some of the players that they have in the squad. If it was me, I’d be doing everything to get someone like Potter into the club immediately with a simple brief of seeing what he can do to turn around the club’s form and performances on the pitch.
Potter would put an arm around players like Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze and get them firing for the rest of the season. Long-term, the ambition would have to be to create an identity for the club, very much like their great rivals Brighton have and I think Potter would be the perfect man for the job.
The only worry I would have about someone like Potter is that he may already have a move lined up to a more ambitious club in the Premier League next season, and crystal Palace haven’t shown any signs over the last few years that they are a club with aspirations to play in Europe.
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