Former Chelsea right-back Glen Johnson has said that his old club will be giving their all to bring home the 2021 Club World Cup.
Chelsea qualified for the competition thanks to their 1-0 victory in the 2021 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester City. They will enter the tournament at the semi-final stage where they will face the winner of Palmeiras vs. Al Ahly.
This will be Chelsea’s second time playing in the Club World Cup after the 2012 edition, where they lost in the final 1-0 to Brazilian club Corinthians. Speaking exclusively to Squawka, Johnson said that defeat will only motivate the Blues to win it now.
“It’s a fantastic trophy,” he said. “It’s a medal that nobody who has played for Chelsea has got. They’ve been in and around the medals forever, but this is the one that’s got away from them, so I’m sure they’ll be doing whatever they can to tick this one off.”
“It’s one of those trophies they haven’t got their hands on and maybe they should have done in the past. But you know they’re tricky [matches], because Chelsea will always be favourites but these teams, they know how to play football.”
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Johnson turned his attention to the often-underdiscussed quality of the opponents in an international cup like this. “There are some fantastic players – we might not know the players as well as we know our domestic leagues – but they’re all super-comfortable on the ball, normally quick and strong.”
“Sometimes playing against good players you don’t know is harder than playing against good players you do know.”
Johnson then acknowledged that the players in the Club World Cup have all arrived on merit by winning their continent’s own version of the Champions League (e.g. the gruelling and historic Copa Libertadores of South America).
“They [The Club World Cup opponents] are no pushovers. You’re just not used to watching them week in, week out. So of course, Chelsea should be favourites but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”
How good is Thomas Tuchel?
Of course, Chelsea’s status as favourites owes a great deal to Thomas Tuchel. The German has been in the job as Chelsea boss for just over a year now and already has the Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup to his name.
“This guy is a serial winner, he’s put a fantastic side together,” said Johnson, in awe of the quality possessed by the Blues. “When he first came in he had a relatively easy start, winning games you should probably be winning, but then after that he had a few big matches that came up where he really got my attention and I thought ‘you know what, this guy is the real deal’.”
Johnson’s remarks on how Chelsea slowly and steadily built an incredibly competitive side under Chelsea speaks to the work Tuchel and his team have been doing behind the scenes. And in front of the scenes, with his touchline demeanour striking a chord.
“I’ve been there a few times to watch them and his energy and his passion on the sideline… you can see it leaking into the players on the pitch,” said the right-back. As a German coach with a hyperactive touchline demeanour, Tuchel has obviously drawn comparisons to Jurgen Klopp, and Johnson believes he deserves to be rated alongside the Liverpool boss.
“You’d have to say he’s up there. I don’t think anyone could really disagree if you picked him or Klopp as the best addition. They’ve both done fantastic jobs, they both have fantastic teams – taken their clubs into good positions – and they’re going deep into nearly every competition so I think it would be a brave person to choose between the two.”
The importance of Reece James
One of the major issues that Chelsea will face in their quest to win the Club World Cup is the injury to Reece James. Reports vary about the exact date of his return but given it’s a hamstring issue, the club are unlikely to rush him back so it would be a surprise were he to feature in the Club World Cup.
Johnson, one of the original attacking right-backs in English football, is a big fan: “I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s a good defender, I like the way he’s goes forward – I like the way he reads the game – he’s mentally calm. While he won’t get the accolades of a Ziyech or whatever but, you don’t realise how good players are until they’re missing.”
“Now he’s not there, everyone seems to be struggling a little bit. People will always say ‘ah you’re a right back, you’re a left back’ they think they’re the least important positions on the pitch but it’s not. It’s really not.”
I think Palmeiras will be their biggest threat”
Chelsea would have loved to have James available, especially to take-on Palmeiras. As Johnson said: “they score a lot of goals – they’re good on the ball. They’re capable of handling the ball in difficult situations and they can frustrate teams. So yeah, I think they [Palmeiras] will be the biggest threat, but if Chelsea perform the way we know they can then they should be clear favourites, but it’s not going to be easy.”
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What would winning the Club World Cup mean?
The Club World Cup’s reputation isn’t as high as you would expect, with Johnson admitting that title-chasing Chelsea would prioritise other competitions. “I think Roman [Abramovich] would swap it for the Premier League,” the Englishman said.
However, victory in the Club World Cup could, according to Johnson, lift the mood and vibe around the club ahead of the Premier League and Champions League run-in, aiding in Abramovich and Chelsea’s pursuit of those major honours.
“Look, everyone in and around the club loves winning trophies,” he said. “The mood around doing that brings energy and belief that nothing else can, so the earliest you can win a trophy the better, whether it’s the EFL Cup or the Club World Cup.”
“I think it’s going to be super hard to try and catch Manchester City either way, but winning these trophies, getting your name on that trophy, and really kicking on in the next six weeks then you never know what happens.”
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