Glen Johnson Exclusive: Liverpool can’t contend for title with Mac Allister out of position

Following last weekend’s Premier League fixtures, spoke to former Chelsea and Liverpool defender Glen Johnson. He discussed Chelsea’s loss to Brentford and Pochettino’s start to the Premier League season. Johnson highlighted Chelsea’s need for a striker in the January transfer window and warned that Levi Colwill could get “found out” at left-back. The former England international also shared his concerns around former club Liverpool’s title charge, urging Jurgen Klopp to find a Fabinho replacement instead of ‘wasting’ Mac Allister in that role.

MB: After a run of good results, Chelsea looked poor against Brentford in defeat, what’s going wrong for Chelsea at the moment?

GJ: Chelsea probably haven’t had enough time to put everything in place yet. They’ve obviously signed a lot of players in a short period of time and it takes time for the players to gel, to learn what it’s like to play in the Premier League and to gain trust and belief in one another. They have shown glimpses of improvement, but there’s still a lot of learning for the squad to do, as well as the manager. For any club, if there’s been this amount of change it’s going to take to work itself out.

MB: What do you make of Pochettino’s start to life as Chelsea manager?

GJ: It’s been an up-and-down start for Pochettino at Chelsea. I still think he’s the right man for the job and it’s not fair for him to come under too much pressure too soon when everyone knows he inherited a tough situation. He needs time to work out which players he can trust and which players will work best in his system. If Chelsea thought he was the right manager four months ago, then they should still feel the same way now.

MB: Was it quite a big risk to hire a Spurs legend to lead the Chelsea rebuild?

GJ: Not really. Of course in the fans’ eyes, yes it was a tough sell for Poch to join Chelsea, but not in the business or football world. He is going to be loyal to Chelsea now and belongs at a fantastic club like Chelsea, and that shouldn’t change just because he used to work for Tottenham.

MB: The next five fixtures for Chelsea are Spurs, City, Newcastle, Brighton, United – could he be in trouble of facing the sack if he doesn’t get results in these games?

GJ: I hope Poch’s job isn’t in danger if he doesn’t pick up results in these coming games. It’s a tough run for sure, but this might be exactly what Chelsea needs to kickstart their season. They’re going to need to be in a better place in the league table than they are now after this run of games and that probably means winning three of those five games, which won’t be easy in the slightest. I don’t want to see Poch come under too much pressure but he’ll know things have to improve. They’ve maybe taken the games against a smaller team a bit too lightly but have been decent against the bigger sides, so this could be just what they need.

MB: Nico Jackson has had a tough start to life at Chelsea – can he turn it around?

GJ: I’m going to remain positive on Nicolas Jackson, I liked him when he burst onto the scene at Villarreal but it takes players time to settle down in the Premier League. He’s shown in the past he has the talent so there’s no reason why he can’t show that for Chelsea.

MB: Do you think they need to buy a striker in January to ease the load on Jackson?

GJ: Jackson is a young guy and he’s been given a big role of being the main goal threat for Chelsea in the toughest league in the world. Chelsea definitely needs to buy an established goalscorer who Jackson can learn from and take the pressure off him. It’s great to go out and buy talented youngsters but these guys don’t know the league and it may take two or three years to get settled. Chelsea can’t afford to wait that amount of time.

MB: How can it be that a team has spent over a billion pounds but the squad still looks short on depth and does that reflect naivety from the owners?

GJ: Chelsea have spent an absolute fortune. They probably went too heavy on young players looking to the future though and that’s showing in their recent results. You can’t just go and buy 10 players under the age of 24 and expect it to work straight away.

MB: Is Levi Colwill being wasted at left-back after playing so well for Brighton as a centre-half?

GJ: If you asked Levi Colwill he’d probably tell you he doesn’t want to be playing left-back. He’s not the quickest and for me to be a full back you have to have some pace and so he looks like he’s playing out of position. It’s great that the manager trusts him enough to give him minutes but it would be best to play him where he plays best, which is at centre-back. He’s technically good, good at passing it through the lines, and reads the game well but he just needs the right players around him. He could get found out at left-back because he could get isolated out there.

MB: Darwin Nunez is in good form at the moment, with four goals from nine appearances compared with his nine-goal tally from 29 last season. How impressed have you been with him and does this show how good Klopp is at improving players?

GJ: With Darwin Nunez, it doesn’t surprise me at all to see how well he’s performing this year. He always looks like a threat, runs his socks off and is a dangerous player to play against. He looks like he’s playing with confidence at the moment and that’s a testament to the work Klopp has done with him.

MB: Just how impressed have you been with Dominik Szoboszlai since he joined Liverpool and has he been the best signing in the Premier League this season?

GJ: In terms of his price and immediate impact, he has to be seen as one of the best signings of the season. He looks like a midfielder who can do everything and looks like he’s been playing in the Premier League for a very long time. Liverpool are so good at signing these rough diamonds and turning them into top-class players and he’s just another example of that.

MB: There have been a lot of comparisons between him and Steven Gerrard. What do you make of that?

GJ: It’s so great for Szoboszlai to be mentioned in the same breath as Gerrard. Gerrard was in a league of his own so obviously Szoboszlai has a long way to go to get close to him, but the world is his oyster.

MB: Liverpool are looking much closer to the standard Klopp has previously reached at the club and looks set to mount a serious title challenge. After 10 games the top of the league is very tight – do you think this Liverpool side will outlast the other contenders to City’s title defence?

GJ: On their day Liverpool are extremely tough to beat and they are extremely hard to stop. They will take each game as it comes, but if they can consistently perform at their best, that’s a title-winning team.

MB: Where does Liverpool’s attack rank in the Premier League? Salah, Jota, Gakpo, Nunez, and Diaz are all difference makers – that must be really hard to prepare for.

GJ: The thing that’s so dangerous about Liverpool’s attacking options is they’re all a bit different and offer different things. You’ve got Nunez and Diaz who are so direct and quick, Jota who’s a threat in the air and intelligent. On top of that, you’ve got Salah who’s obviously world-class. It’s a great weapon for Liverpool to have and a nightmare to prepare for.

MB: If the absolute worst-case scenario happened and Liverpool accepted an astronomical bid for Salah in January or next summer, is there a player you think can go some way to replace him? Who should Liverpool sign if Salah leaves?

GJ: It’s so hard to replace a player like Salah if he does leave, but I would look at Lautaro Martinez if I were Liverpool. He scores for fun, played at the highest level and also wouldn’t break the bank like a huge name, but who knows Mo may stay for a few more years yet.

MB: Talk of Pedro Neto being a possible Liverpool signing before the injury – thoughts on that?

GJ: Neto’s definitely of the calibre of signing Liverpool should be looking at. He’s quick, direct, and has a great left foot. Is he the sort of player Liverpool need right now? I’m not so sure, as I’m not sure he gets into Liverpool’s best team, but he would definitely help the squad and looks like he’s still improving.

MB: Is Salah now part of that group of all-time Premier League greats?

GJ: Salah has to be seen as one of the all-time greats in the Premier League. He’s broken records, scored a load of goals and won it all. It obviously didn’t work out for him at Chelsea but he came back and Liverpool kicked him back into life and then for a few years he was probably the best player in the world.

MB: How do you think Mac Allister is getting on as the holding midfielder – some people would say he’s a bit of a square peg in a round hole there. Do you agree with that?

GJ: I kind of feel sorry for Mac Allister a little bit. He’s obviously been asked to do something he’s not completely comfortable with and he’s doing a job for the team. It’s great that he’s willing to do that, but to be title contenders you can’t have too many players playing out of position and I don’t think he was signed to play that role, it’s just what they need at the moment from him. I certainly think he’s a better player going forward and he’s got too much attacking ability that’s being wasted by sitting deep and breaking the game up. He’s showing great character by sacrificing himself for the benefit of the team, but they need someone more natural in that position if they want to challenge for the title.

MB: Do you think they still need to improve in this position and properly replace Fabinho?

GJ: The holding midfield role is such an important position in modern football. For me, in order to win the league, you need a top goalkeeper and a top holding midfielder. The full-backs can only get forward and help attacks if they trust their no.6 to cover for them, the centre-backs can only step up and defend aggressively if they have faith in their holding midfielder. That player is so important to the team, and particularly in Klopp’s system and Liverpool need to bring in a top player that they can rely on in that position.

MB: Joe Gomez at right-back – good enough to play as much as he has done in that position?

GJ: Liverpool need a natural full-back to be playing at all times because of how important they are in Klopp’s system. Gomez is a fantastic centre-half, but don’t think he’s good enough on the ball or strong enough at passing to be creative and help the team further up the field to be playing at right-back, because it’s not his game. Of course, he’s good enough to be doing the job against certain teams but a top team like Liverpool needs natural full-backs playing for them.

MB: West Ham tailed off a bit after a decent start. Is Moyes the right man to lead them, and is it possibly an outdated system for this group of players?

GJ: I think West Ham started the season really well and this is a bit of a blip for them. If they finish seventh or eighth they’d be really happy with that so there’s no reason to worry about Moyes at West Ham. He’s done so well there and I’m still backing them to have a good season.

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