Football News

Glen Johnson: Harvey Elliott deserves more credit for “world-class” Liverpool form

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:15, 14 March 2024

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has hailed the form of Harvey Elliott as the club still fight on three fronts.

Liverpool’s chance of winning the quadruple was also discussed as well as the return of Michael Edwards, the futures of Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk, and the Reds’ pull once Jurgen Klopp leaves.

Johnson also talked about the difference between his Chelsea side and the current one, Cole Palmer’s chances of being in England’s Euro 2024 squad and his tips for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

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One of the big topics still about is Jurgen Klopp leaving in the summer. When it comes to the post-Klopp era of Liverpool, do you think many players will stick around? Will Salah and Van Dijk be prepared to sit through another rebuilding process?

Yeah, I think so. Obviously it’s going to be a big loss, with Klopp leaving. But Liverpool is still a huge pull on its own and, to be honest, I don’t think they’re going to go through another rebuild process because Klopp’s left the club in a much better position than when he took over. So whoever’s walking in, the owners are settled, the foundations of the club are settled, the team’s obviously fantastic. That wasn’t the case when Klopp took over. So I think he’s definitely leaving it in a better position. So I don’t think they’re going to need to go through the same sort of process. I could see all the big guns sticking around for sure.

Salah is still a name that has been linked to leave for other reasons, even before Klopp’s announcement. If he were to leave, do you think the remaining Liverpool players are good enough to compete for the Premier League?

He’d certainly be a huge loss, they’re a much better side with him in it. But Liverpool have lost a lot of top players over the years and found a way to deal with it. Whether it’s a new signing, or someone coming up to fill his shoes slightly. You’re never going to think the team are going to struggle because of one player. They’re a much better side than a one man band. So yes, the team would be weakened, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to work with it.

Michael Edwards has returned to the club but this time in an even higher position, how big do you think this is for Liverpool’s future?

Yeah, well, off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone behind the scenes better than Eddie. His knowledge of the game and how he works things out and builds the team around him is very, very important. And obviously, when it comes to signings, you see how good the work is, but there’s a lot of effort that goes in it behind the scenes that we don’t see. The guy’s worked extremely hard. So to have him back I think is a huge, huge bonus.

Michael Edwards oversaw the signings of Salah, Mane, Fabinho, Allison, Van Dijk etc, is there anyone you would like to see them go for?

I don’t know, because what I love about what Eddie is good at, is he finds those rough diamonds. You know, it’s easy for us to pick someone in form or an easy target of someone scoring goals or whatever. But, Eddie, all these players that you just mentioned, they weren’t as good before he signed them. So that’s what I mean by rough diamonds. Of course, they were good players, but they all signed for Liverpool and kicked on. So it’s clever in the sense that he’s buying players that some of the other top teams don’t want at that time. And that’s what they do so well, so I think that’s where you’ve just got to let Eddie do his job and continue doing what he’s been so good at.

Do you think Liverpool will struggle to sign players with Klopp not being in charge next season? Or, like you said, do you think the foundations will be enough to entice new signings?

Yeah, well obviously Klopp’s a massive pull. So that would definitely be a huge box ticked for new signings. But like I say Liverpool is a huge pull on its own. The players are another big pull, and other top players want to play with top players. Look, of course the guys who are coming in would love Klopp to be there, but I think they’d still be happy to sign with the club in its current position and the current players they’ve got.

After the draw between Liverpool and Man City this weekend, who are your favourites to win the league at this point? Is this the best title race in living memory at this stage of the season?

For like the neutral, they’re probably loving it because like say you’ve got three big guns going at it and I think over the weekend there were three different teams at the top of the table, which is brilliant to watch. And the standard of that game, the Liverpool-City game, was sensational. So credit to both teams. I think I’ll probably go with Liverpool at the moment, as favourites. I just think they always find a way. They dominated the game – to be fair, it’s a bit harsh because City were fantastic as well and obviously Liverpool had the home advantage. So if it was away, City easily could have dominated the game the other way. So I think it’s got two giants there going toe to toe. It’s great to watch. but if I had to pick right now I’d go for Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola withdrew Kevin De Bruyne with the scores level in the second half. Did you agree with that call? Was that decision almost a compliment to how well the Liverpool midfield had done in pressing De Bruyne?

Yeah. Exactly that. To the naked eye, obviously, fans are probably thinking, what the hell are you doing? Taking off arguably your best player when the game’s level. But at that time, the game was slipping away from them. Liverpool were well on top. Liverpool only looked like the team that were going to score. I think Pep sensed that and just had to get some players in there that can defend a little bit and soak some pressure up. So like I say, it’s nothing to do with how uninfluential De Bruyne was because he’s always going to be a threat. I think it’s more of how good Liverpool were and Pep sensing it.

What have you made of the youngsters that have come into the Liverpool team in recent weeks? How much praise do they deserve for stepping up in the absence of key players?

Yeah, they’ve done great. It’s brilliant for Liverpool as a football club in terms of, you know, there’s three players that come on recent times that we’ve never heard of. So it’s fantastic. And a couple of them didn’t look out of place at all. It’s really good. And hopefully they hang around and keep developing, and the future is bright for Liverpool.

Are there any of these players that expect to go on and become regular starters in the coming seasons for Liverpool?

I think it’s too hard to say now. They certainly didn’t look out of place in the game or two that they’ve played. But, I’m not being funny, there’s loads of people that have played decent in one or two games and then disappeared. So I hope these kids don’t do that, but it’s definitely way too early to start judging them in four or five years’ time. But as long as they hang around the first team and keep developing and learning the game, and don’t assume they’ve made it because they’ve had one or two games, then hopefully they’ll all go on to have good careers because they’re certainly in a good position at the moment.

One of the names bringing a lot of good headlines at the minute is Conor Bradley. Where would you say he ranks among Premier League right-backs currently? Are Liverpool more balanced and fluid with him playing there than Trent Alexander-Arnold?

Yeah, again, obviously Conor has been fantastic. He’s been brilliant. Again it’s a bit early and harsh to judge him against everybody else because three months ago he hadn’t played a game of football. So, I think it’s a bit harsh now. Put it this way, if this is his standard and he can maintain this, then he’s going to be world class. But sometimes the first season is always easy because you’re playing on cloud nine, you’re living the dream, there’s no negatives at all, and you’re loving life. But it’s when you get knocked back and get a few injuries, and that’s how you bounce back and decide whether you’re going to have a 20-year career or a two-year career. But at the moment, he’s certainly playing fantastic, and like you say, him in the team, I think they do look more balanced. He’s probably a more natural right-back than Trent. Obviously Trent’s world class, of course, but, with his ability, he can play almost anywhere. But with Conor, he looks a more natural right-back. He’s quick, strong, a good defender. So right now you can’t fault him.

How important is it for a young player like Conor Bradley to have someone of Alexander-Arnold’s quality ahead of him, to learn from?

Yeah. It’s important. Obviously, as kids, we all know it’s like, you look up to people in your position, but when you get around the first team, you learn from everybody. Conor won’t just be looking at the right-backs. You learn from all the best players in training, how they look after themselves, how hard they work, and try to nick the best attributes out of everybody, and then piece it together in your own way. But absolutely, to follow someone like Trent, it can only be good for your development. But like I say, it’s important that the kids learn from everyone, not just people in their position.

Do you think Harvey Elliott gets the credit he deserves for his performances at Liverpool?

Probably not, to be honest. Because the last few games, I think he’s been world class. He does the simple things very, very well, and people take that for granted. His short passes, his short little movements, if you’re watching him, his head’s always on a turn. He knows exactly where people are. He’s brave to get on the ball, and brave to get on the ball in a huge game like the one at the weekend. Someone like Diaz, of course they catch your eye. And Nunez, of course they get the limelight, and that’s fine. But I think there’s a lot of work that Harvey does that he doesn’t get credit for.

Liverpool have already wrapped up one cup, do you think they could go all the way to win the quadruple?

At the moment. Yeah. Because you’ve got to be in it to win it, as we say. Of course it’d be tough, certainly with the amount of injuries that they have, they’re going to need a few more bodies back. And obviously it needs some luck. But in terms of are they good enough? Absolutely. You know, if they play the way they did against City, who’s going to beat them? I know it’s hard to play like that every week. But that’s the standard that they’re capable of.

Man Utd and Liverpool face off in the FA Cup this weekend. Who needs the FA Cup more? It’s potentially the last chance for both managers to win it (Klopp to add a second).

Yeah, I’d probably say United need it more, but only probably to give Ten Hag a bit more time. Because, if they do win it, United are used to winning all sorts, so I still don’t think they’ll be happy with the season. I’d say that they need it more, but I’ve got a feeling Liverpool are going to want it more.

Moving onto another one of your former clubs, Chelsea are reportedly planning to sell 14 players in the upcoming transfer window, is this the right way of going about business? Should they stick with the players they’ve already invested in?

Well I guess it all depends. Obviously, I don’t know who the 14 are, but I can’t imagine it would be 14 of the ones they’ve signed recently. There’s always some deadwood in every club, there’s always two or three that need to go. Then you do a bit of business with two or three more. 14 does sound a lot, but it just depends on who it is. But in terms of the ones they’ve signed, of course they need time to gel and find their feet. And hopefully after a bit of time, a couple of them will come good and show their value. But, I’d say 14 does sound a lot, but it obviously depends who they are.

Conor Gallagher is reportedly set to be one of those players as they have already started to eye up a replacement for him, how much of a mistake would letting go of Gallagher be?

Yeah, I think it would be a mistake. You know, we’ve had the chat loads of times and he’s always the one that keeps coming up in terms of being linked here and there and everywhere. But he’s arguably been one of their best players. He’s wearing the armband. He’s the one that sets the work rate standard, he’s Chelsea through and through. So, he definitely, for me, shouldn’t be one of those 14.

Do Chelsea need to add more experience to their squad in the summer? Or is it about building from what they’ve currently got?

No, I think they do need some experienced players, but I think they need some characters as well, you know, they need some winners. Obviously they’ve got some fantastic individuals, but fantastic individuals don’t win trophies and they don’t win football matches. You need people that can roll their sleeves up and have a go, and I just don’t see that at the moment in the team.

What do you think is different between this season for Chelsea, and your first season, when there were also a host of new signings coming in and trying to gel? Why hasn’t it worked so far?

Probably because of exactly what I just said. Our team was full of winners. and we didn’t have any thought of losing, whereas this team doesn’t have the winners at the moment. Obviously they’ve got some good players, like I say, but they’re not winners. We had really good players, but were winners. So that’s the difference. And I’m not being funny, if you compare the two teams, I’m not sure there’s one player in this team that gets into our team. It’s a totally different thing. At the time it was a lot, it was a big transition. But good players with the winning mentality can gel easy, and I think that’s what they’re lacking at the moment.

Cole Palmer has easily been Chelsea’s player of the season so far, do you think he deserves to be starting in the Euros?

Yeah, possibly, like you say, he’s been world class. And at the moment, to be honest, Chelsea only look like scoring when he’s got the ball. So for him to sort of drag that team along almost single-handed, that’s not easy to do. If he could do that in arguably a better team, then he definitely can do it on a bigger stage. So if you think about the other players right now, Grealish is injured, a few are not firing. So yeah, I think he would definitely be the first sub or in the front three. As long as he continues this form, he’s banging right on the door.

Malo Gusto is another young Premier League full-back flying this season. Just how exciting has he been to watch, especially in Reece James’ absence at Chelsea?

Yeah, well, obviously we saw glimpses of him before, but it’s a bit stop start, stop start for him because obviously Reece was the main man. But it’s good to see him have a run of games and get some form and get some confidence. And like I say, he has been good to watch. You know, he’s bags of energy, he’s good on the ball, exciting when he goes forward. So I think he’s looked really good, and like I say, it’s good for him because he has had to wait a long time for his chance. But for me, at the moment, he’s taken it.

How important is it for Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea to win the FA Cup this season – as their last chance for success?

Obviously people are talking about the pressures of Poch, and things like that. So again, similar to Ten Hag, I think if they were to go on and win, and creep up even a couple of places in the league, then you’d probably say it’s a good season from where they were last year or last season. So yeah, I think it’d be important for them and it could turn it into a fantastic season, in terms of where they started.

It is Cheltenham this week and all eyes will eventually be on the Gold Cup on Friday. Who are you backing?

Absolutely. For me, Galopin Des Champs is clearly the one to beat, he’s the superstar in the race. If I only had a tenner in my pocket, I’d probably put it on him, but I’m scared, he’s never won on heavy ground. Come Friday it might not be heavy, I guess, but if it is, that’d be my only concern. I think a sensible bet will probably be, Brave man’s game each way. I think he’s about 16s at the moment, so that’d be a sensible bet. But if Des Champs performs, then he wins.