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Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez would get my vote for Player of the Year – Glen Johnson

By Squawka News

Published: 10:00, 10 April 2024

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has backed Darwin Nunez to be named PFA Player of the Year.

Liverpool’s recent battles with Man Utd, Alexis Mac Allister’s form, where this season’s title race will be won, and the make-up of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad were other topics covered.

Johnson also spoke about the adjustment period Liverpool will undergo after Jurgen Klopp’s imminent exit, Phil Foden and Cole Palmer as must-starts for England, and his verdict on Mauricio Pochettino.

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Yesterday’s 2-2 draw means that Liverpool have now won just one of their last five against Man Utd. What is it about these recent meetings that have stumped Jurgen Klopp?

Well, just the fact that it’s United’s biggest game of the year or season. So it’s a fierce rivalry and United have got some really good players, so it’s like a cup final. So they’re going to bring their A Game every time they play against Liverpool so it’s always going to be a tough fixture. With the game this week, it could have gone either way, to be honest, but I just think it’s the fact that the players from United raise their game for that certain fixture.

Mohamed Salah now leads the way for the most Premier League goals scored against Man Utd with 11. He’s also the only player in the world to provide 100 combined goals and assists in the past four seasons. Do you believe he should be considered in the conversation of all-time Premier League greats?

Yeah absolutely. Yeah he has to. He can’t keep breaking records and not get mentioned in that sort of circle. There’s a lot that would disagree I guess, but the stats and the numbers don’t lie so for me he definitely needs to be mentioned in that sort of circle.

This three-horse title race is one of the most exciting in Premier League history. Arsenal have won the most games, Liverpool have lost just twice and conceded the fewest goals while Man City have been crowned champions in five of the last six seasons. Who do you believe will win the title and why?

I think Liverpool will get it done. Purely because they’re the team that have still got more to give in terms of they’ve got some big names to come back from the treatment table which is only going to help them. Obviously Man City are Man City and are going to be a big force to stop. I think anyone who finishes in front of City are the ones that will win it. I just think Arsenal will slip-up towards the end but like you say it’s great to see, we’ve got three fantastic teams going toe-to-toe and it’s going to go down to the wire so it’s certainly interesting but I just think Liverpool have got more potential because they’ve been winning games when they’ve been down or the squad’s been down or they haven’t necessarily been playing great but they’re still winning, so that’s why.

As you mentioned there it looks set to go down to the wire. How much do you think desire plays a factor? Do you think Arsenal and Liverpool players in particular will have more desire to win the title over City players that have already won three consecutive titles.

No, not at all actually. It definitely comes down to desire, but you don’t win it three times in a row if you haven’t got desire. So I think you’re right, it definitely comes down to desire but I think every single one of those teams are going to have enough desire to win, even more so now that they’re all so close. You don’t get to the top of your career or the game and playing for these clubs if you don’t have desire so they’re all professionals, they’re all good players and they’re all winners. So yeah, desire does play a part, but I think they’re all going to have enough desire to get the job done.

Should the Anfield atmosphere also be considered a key factor? Having played for Liverpool during your career, how much difference can playing in such an atmosphere actually make to a player’s performance?

Yeah, it does. It gives you a certain adrenaline. It’s sort of like a drug that you can’t find anywhere else. To hear the crowd behind you and enjoying the game and making an atmosphere of it then it definitely gives you that little bit when you’re maybe not feeling so great or you’re a little bit tired or your legs are hurting a little or whatever it may be, that certainly gives you the lift. And that can be the fine margins or that tiny extra percent that gets you over the line or might get you that win. So yeah I think certainly at this stage of the season I think it’s very important.

How much of a factor will the Champions League play? Both Arsenal and Manchester City face very tough ties while Liverpool are in the Europa League – does that give the Reds an advantage?

No, because it’s still another couple of games of football or even more, so no it’s not an advantage at all, they’re still going to play good sides and have tough football matches so it’s another fixture and they’re going to play good sides.

How do you see those Champions League ties going? Are Manchester City or Arsenal the more likely Premier League side to progress in your eyes?

Well look, they’re going to be tough games. For the first time in a while you’ve probably got all of the giants, or most of the giants still left in it. So yeah, City are favourites for nearly every single football match that they start so you would think that they’ll go further I’d say, but at the same time they’ve got a very tough tie. So have Arsenal, and in these games they might come down to fine margins and they’re all going to have to beat each other now so it’s whoever gets it right on the night and makes the least mistakes are the ones that will probably progress.

Alexis Mac Allister’s been playing in a slightly different position this season for Liverpool than he did for Brighton. Do you think he’s been one of their stand-out players?

Yeah he probably has actually. He’s come up and he’s been playing out of position and sacrificing some of his ability to do a job for the team which I think he’s done well. But he’s also been getting on the scoresheet and scoring some really big goals. So yeah I think he’s surprised me in a sense of how well he’s adapted because he’s fantastic going forward but he’s been asked to play in a deeper role and it just shows you how professional the guy is and how much he wants to help the team. I think he’s surprised me how well he’s adapted to that role, because we know what he’s capable of going forward but to sit there and create play from deep, I think he’s won a lot of people over.

Do you think he’s played even better when Wataru Endo’s been included in the team?

Not necessarily, I think he’s done well regardless to be honest. Obviously having Endo there helps him in that he can get forward a little bit more, but at the same time when he has been even a deeper player he’s performed very well, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s Endo that’s helped him, I just think he’s shown that he’s very versatile and can adapt the way he plays and you know those kind of squad players are great to have.

With Xabi Alonso now set to stay at Bayer Leverkusen, who do you think Liverpool will be targeting to replace Jurgen Klopp at the end of the season?

I literally have no idea! Genuinely, no idea, because it’s such a tough seat that any manager going in there is almost set-up to fail in the sense that Jurgen’s left the bar so high. You know the players love him, the fans love him, he’s winning and getting results, the team look great, so there’s not much you could actually improve so whoever comes in next can only really do the same or worse. It’s a very big pair of shoes to fill and a lot of managers that are out there and available will be fully aware of that, so I genuinely have no idea who’s going to be next in the seat.

Do you think there will be quite a big transition period for Liverpool now?

Not necessarily because where Klopp picked the club up, where he inherited the club, he’s leaving it in a totally different situation. The owners are settled, the foundations of the club are settled, they’ve got a fantastic squad. That wasn’t the case when Jurgen took over. So when Jurgen does leave, he’s leaving the club in a much better position than when he took over so I don’t think they need to go through a big transition. Obviously a new manager will have new staff and new ways of playing and new philosophies and that might take a bit of time for the players to buy into, but other than that whoever does take the seat is going to be inheriting a fantastic club in a fantastic position.

The Euros are on the horizon now, how sure do you think Gareth Southgate will be of his final 23 or 26 man squad at this stage?

I’d probably say he’s 90%. I think there are certain players that pick themselves and there’s always a last little batch of form that will get someone into the squad or an injury somewhere that eliminates somebody that gives somebody else a chance but if everyone’s fit I’d say he’s 90%, maybe 95% there.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier to choose from, Southgate as an embarrassment of riches to choose from in your old position. Which of these players would you start at right-back this summer and why?

If everybody’s fit, I’d probably pick Reece James. And the reason, I just think he’s the best all-rounder. Yeah you might say some of the others are better going forward, some of the others are better defenders, but I just like how composed he is and I feel that he’s the best with his all-round game, and that’s why I’d pick Reece James.

Phil Foden is the current favourite, but who would be getting your vote for the PFA Player of the Year this season if you were still playing?

Blimey, it’s a tough one because I think a lot of players have been doing really well. I’d probably go with a surprise, someone like Darwin Nunez. People were saying that he doesn’t score enough goals, but when you think about the way that he plays, he’s probably the last person that you want to play against in the Premier League and that’s saying something with the other players that are available, but yeah I’d probably go with someone like Nunez because he’d probably be the first striker, other than Haaland, that I’d want in my team.

Phil Foden
Declan Rice
Bukayo Saka
Virgil van Dijk

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Do you think for the next manager who comes into Liverpool after Jurgen Klopp leaves, do you think Nunez is the type of player that you can build a team around?

Well you know, Liverpool are too advanced for that. They’re not a one-hit wonder, they don’t need to build a team around anybody. But I certainly think he’s a top striker that can pinpoint the team. They’re far from a one man band so they don’t need to build a team around anybody, but you certainly want him in the team because like I’ve said many many times before, there are certain periods where he’s not scoring but he’s still a goal threat, he’s always a goal threat and he only needed to find a bit of form and a little bit of luck to get some goals and that’s what he’s getting now. So look, he’s always a goal threat and he’s always going to be in the team, but like I say I don’t think Liverpool need to build a team around anybody, but you certainly want him in it rather than not.

Your former club Chelsea have endured a difficult season, would you look to change the manager at the end of the season or do the problems run deeper at Stamford Bridge?

No, I wouldn’t change him no. I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be settled, you know they went through an awful lot of change in quick succession and I think they just need to iron that out, pretty much similar to what Liverpool did when Jurgen Klopp took over, they need to build the club back up from the ground. Not just go and buy a big bunch of young players, you need to build the club up from the foundations and build your way up. The owners knew that things were going to take time to settle and I think they will give Poch a bit more time, but obviously we’re in a results industry and fans want to see results almost immediately, so you’ve got to find that balance in between. But for me, he needs more time, because they knew it was going to be a long-term plan.

And Mauricio Pochettino’s repeatedly suggested that the squad needs even more investment, but which positions do you think they need to strengthen as a priority?

Probably the centre halves. I’d probably say that’s the place they need to sure up more importantly than anywhere else, but then I think they still need a couple of midfielders and still a top striker. But yeah, if I could only sign two players I’d probably get two centre halves.

Cole Palmer’s been the obvious stand-out players for the Blues this season, but do any of the other players come out of the campaign with credit for you?

Yeah, there’s been a couple of bits of hope, but nobody that’s really set the world on fire because otherwise they’d be pulling the team a bit further forward. I think Gallagher’s done well in terms of never dropping his head, he’s always worked hard. I don’t think a few of the other lads have done themselves much justice, because if you’re playing for a club like Chelsea and you’re a big character then you should be winning and putting up more of a fight not just having flash in the pan performances, you need to perform week in week out. So I think Gallagher’s not done himself any harm and like you say I think Cole Palmer is literally dragging the team along on his own at the moment and Chelsea at the moment don’t look like scoring unless he’s got the ball.

Just going back to England, England have kept just two clean sheets in the last eight matches which includes goals conceded in three Euro qualifiers and two high-profile friendlies against Brazil and Belgium. Is there some cause for concern regarding the defence? If so, what can Gareth Southgate do to remedy these fears?

Well defence has always been the problem, we know how good we are going forward but let’s face it, if you’re playing top teams like Belgium and Brazil of course they’re capable of scoring. But I think we all know that defence in the weakest part of the team and I think you maybe just need to get a midfielder in there that can help the two centre halves, or three depending on which way we’re playing, just to make sure we’re a bit more solid and they’ve got an extra pair of hands to help them out and reassure it. And I don’t mean sit back and be defensive, but you need someone who can drop back and help out when needed.

There’s no denying that this is one of the most talented squads England have ever had. If they fail to win the Euros, should Gareth Southgate step down?

Well it depends, because you can not win it but still have a positive tournament. At that level, you’re going to be playing top top sides, certainly towards the end and you need things to go right for you to win a tournament like that. So I think even if they don’t win it they could come out with positives but I guess it’s all down to Gareth in terms of all good things come to an end and he’s been there a while, he might think this is the best chance of winning something. I don’t know where his heads at, whether he wants to do another four years to get to another few good tournaments it will be down to him. I don’t think he has to walk if he doesn’t win it, as long as the tournament’s still positive.

You were 19 years old when you received your first England cap. Much has been made of Kobbie Mainoo’s first two appearances for the national side at just the age of 18, how did you think he did? Do you believe he’s ready to play a big part for England at the Euros this summer or should he be slowly integrated into the side?

Well the problem is timing. First of all I think he was fantastic, he looks great, he looks like he’s been around for a long time. He’s composed, the boy’s technical standard is brilliant, you see his goal at the weekend and he doesn’t need to look, he knows exactly where people are and he’s got a wise head on very young shoulders. I definitely think he should be a part of the squad. Whether it’ll be starting or not I don’t know, but from now until the end of the season a lot can change, so I definitely think he’s good enough to help the squad and help the team and I’d be surprised if he’s not on the plane, but if he’s going to walk straight into the starting eleven we’re not sure, but I definitely think he can help the team, definitely.

Based on their club form this season, are Cole Palmer and Phil Foden must-starts for England at the Euros this summer? Should Southgate switch systems to accommodate this pair?

No, I think you’ve got to do what’s right for everybody in terms of the squad. Like I say, at that level there’s not one player that’s good enough to change everything for. So of course they’re great players and you want to try and get them on the field at the same time, but there’s also so many players like that that you can have. They’ve both been brilliant, but I think they can both play separate roles anyway so whether they both get into the starting eleven we’re obviously yet to find out but it’s a good problem to have. If you’re talking about leaving one of them out then it shows you how powerful the squad is. Hopefully they get to play at the same time, but if not we’ve also got other great players that might fit the style or the system slightly better depending on who you’re playing against.

And finally, last season’s campaign was the highest-scoring in Premier League history and with a continued emphasis on attacking-based football we could be on course for another record-breaker this term. What have you made of the decline of defensive football? Is it good for the game or are we overlooking the art of defending?

Well look, it’s an entertaining sport right? It’s supposed to be entertaining. If everyone won 1-0 every week it would be pretty boring wouldn’t it? So as long as the games are good to watch and they’re fast and we are seeing goals and entertainment then I don’t really care. Of course, in our Chelsea days we set the record and our foundations were defensive, in terms of “if you don’t concede you can’t lose” so that still has to be the mentality at some point, but at the end of the day if you’re scoring more than your opponent then that’s job done and it will certainly be more entertaining to watch for the neutrals on a weekend that are watching any football. But yeah, you can still watch beautiful football with good defending. As long as it’s not kamikaze defending then it’s still going to be entertaining but yeah, I’d rather see goals than not.

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