Glen Johnson on his dream EA FC team, Chelsea's failings, and more
It feels like a long story of Chelsea's struggles, although they've spent over £1bn in a short space of time, there doesn't seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.
One man who had success in blue in Glen Johnson, completing the double of the Premier League and League Cup in the 2004-2005 season.
We spoke with the star around his dream EA FC team, whether Darwin Nunez has got what it takes, and more.
Hypothetically, if you were a player of EA Sports FC 24, then which eleven players would you pick in your Ultimate Team?
In goal I will go with Alisson [Becker]. In defence I will opt for Reece James and David Alaba as the full-backs and at centre-back I will go with Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. In midfield I will go with England duo Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, alongside Manchester City’s Rodri. I will finish the team with a front three of Kylian Mbappé, Lautaro Martínez and Erling Haaland.
We want to start the interview by asking you for your thoughts on Saturday’s game between Manchester City and Liverpool. Do you believe Liverpool made a statement by coming away from the Etihad Stadium with a draw and do you believe Liverpool will consider themselves fortunate to come away with a point considering the goal that Manchester City had disallowed?
I think they’ll be feeling a mixture of pride and relief. It was a very good game to watch and Liverpool are good enough to go toe-to-toe with Manchester City, because most teams that attempt to go toe-to-toe with them at the Etihad usually lose. It was a game that neither team wanted to lose and you’re going to almost class it as a victory if you don’t lose away from home to a team that you’ll be going head-to-head with in the title race.
Liverpool would have been over the moon with a draw and they’ll certainly consider themselves lucky to come away with one because the goal that was disallowed was not a foul. There’s no way it was a foul. I was very happy it was a foul, don’t get me wrong, but it was the wrong decision. There was an example later on in the game where Alisson was hit a lot harder and there was no free kick given. There’s no consistency, but I was over the moon that it was ruled out.
After results this weekend, do you believe Arsenal are now the team to catch?
Yes, because they’re currently top of the table. It’s great that there’s only four points separating the top five teams because it’s brilliant to watch. If results went a bit different this weekend, then there were two other teams that could have possibly been top by the end of the gameweek. The competition is great for the league and I wouldn’t want to pick a winner right now.
Are Tottenham still in the Premier League title race despite three defeats on the bounce?
Yes, I think so. They’ve been playing well and they’re still there or thereabouts, but they will be kicking themselves after losing three games on the bounce. I can’t think of any other previous Premier League winning team that lost three games in a row on route to lifting the title.
For that reason, I would be surprised if Tottenham are still in the title race come the end of the season, but they have played really well this campaign and they’ve looked very comfortable in most of the games they’ve participated in. The three defeats on the bounce are a bigger surprise than where Tottenham are in the league table.
Do you believe Aston Villa are in the Premier League title race?
They are in the sense that they’re only two points off the top. They’re playing very well at the moment, but is their squad good enough to compete for the duration of the season? I don’t think it is. I’m saying this with no disrespect to Aston Villa because they’ve done brilliantly so far to be where they are. They’re competing at the moment but I don’t know if they can do that throughout the entire season against the very best.
When Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2016, all the big guns were rubbish at the same time, which was unheard of. Unfortunately for Aston Villa, the top five at the moment all look very good. They’re all not going to fall away, that’s for sure.
The fact we’re even having this conversation is a credit to them and they deserved to beat Tottenham on Sunday. If they can continue to put in those types of performances against the big teams, then they’re going to stay where they are now, but I believe that some of the other club’s starting elevens and squads are too good for Villa to compete with them.
On Saturday, Gary Neville claimed that Trent Alexander-Arnold has the potential to be the best right-back in the history of football. Do you believe he’s well on the way to becoming exactly that?
It’s hard to think of anybody better than him when he’s at his best. When he’s on form, he can do things that other players in his position can’t. He’s had dips in form, but he’s human isn’t he? Everybody’s going to have a dip in form.
However, when he does have a dip in form, he’s capable of making mistakes and that’s possibly why we haven’t had the conversation about him being the ‘very best’ earlier. When he’s on form and not making mistakes, then I can’t think of a better right-back than Trent.
Liverpool legend Luis Suarez recently labelled his compatriot Darwin Núñez as “one of the best number nines in the world.” Do you believe Darwin has the potential to be one of the Premier League’s, and world football’s, very best strikers?
I really do believe that he has the potential to kick on. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s still a problem for the opposition and creating chances for others. It’s a bigger problem for strikers when they’re not having any effect on the game, but Darwin is strong, aggressive, creative and he’ll still bag a lot. He may not be the greatest goalscoring machine at the moment, but he’s a big, big problem for defenders to play against and if he score on a more regular basis, then he’s going to put himself in that conversation.
Do you believe Mauricio Pochettino will be given time as Chelsea manager?
Yes, I believe he’ll be given time, otherwise there was no point in appointing him in the first place. The owners must have bought into his long-term plans for the team and I believe they still trust him. Chelsea weren’t in a good place when Mauricio came to the club and it’s not as if he would have been expected to get them into the top four at the first time of asking.
They’re no better or worse than they were last season and it’s going to take plenty of time for Mauricio’s ideas to come to fruition. For me, the owners need to give him time to get the club settled.
If you had to pinpoint one reason for Chelsea’s failings this season, then what would it be?
It’s not just the amount of new players they’ve brought into the club during the summer, but they’ve also lost half of their backroom staff. Everybody doesn’t notice things like this on the weekend when the team is playing. They’ve changed more than half of their squad, half their backroom staff, they’ve brought in a new manager and the owners are still relatively new to the Premier League, so it’s as if Chelsea are a completely different football club now to what they were a few years ago.
It’s going to take time for Chelsea to be successful again and I’m sure that some of the young players they’ve brought in are going to be big stars for the club going forward. This team just needs to get through this season, finish as high in the table as they can and have a pre-season with the same group of lads who’re at the club now, and after a year’s worth of experience together, they can continue to build next season.
According to ESPN, Chelsea, along with Real Madrid, have an interest in Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The 22-year-old is one of Europe’s most highly regarded prospects and was a standout performer for his club when they won the Serie A title last season. Do you believe Kvaratskhelia would provide a welcome addition to your former club, or do they already have too many players in that area already?
I’ve obviously not seen him play as much as the wingers that are currently with Chelsea, but from what I saw of Kvaratskhelia in the Champions League with Napoli last season, he looks like a proper threat in front of goal. He’s quick, he’s got a great strike on him and he will get goals, which is something that many of the wingers aren’t doing at this moment in time at Chelsea.
They don’t necessarily need to buy another winger, but Kvaratskhelia could represent a step up on some of the wingers at the club if he continues on doing what he’s doing at the highest level. If he’s available and he’s not going to cost an astronomical amount, then this is definitely a deal for Chelsea to keep their eye on.
Chelsea also continue to be linked with a move for Kvaratskhelia’s Napoli teammate Victor Osimhen. Osimhen’s favoured next club is reportedly the Stamford Bridge outfit and considering the turmoil currently going on at Napoli, do you believe Chelsea could take advantage of this and bring him to Stamford Bridge in January?
The big transfers don’t usually happen in January do they? However, sometimes things change and all clubs have different circumstances. Regardless of what’s happening at Napoli, I believe Victor would want to join Chelsea anyway. However, Victor will be kicking himself that this move could happen when Chelsea are currently in transition.
Of course they’re a big team and they’re going to bounce back eventually, but as long as Victor is willing to wait 18 months or so for that to happen, then I’m sure he’d still want to sign for them in January. If Napoli continue to struggle this season, then that will make the decision even easier for Victor.
Do you believe Osimhen would adapt easily to the Premier League if he made the move to Stamford Bridge in January?
I’m not sure if he would adapt to the Premier League straight away, but it would be easier to say yes if Chelsea were the Chelsea of old, as he would have been walking into an established team. I know that [Erling] Haaland is Haaland, but when he walked into Manchester City, who were arguably already the best team, then all the other players made it easy for him to hit the ground running. I think you have to forget that kind of example because it’s rare that a new striker scores that many goals in their first Premier League campaign.
It’s tough for strikers to move to struggling sides and start banging in the goals straight away; that’s difficult for anyone to do. For example, if Erling Haaland joined Chelsea in January, he wouldn’t score the same amount of goals he’s scoring now. It’s hard to assume that Victor’s going to start banging in goals from day one, if the move happens, but I think he will score goals in the Premier League and the league will suit him.
With Christopher Nkunku close to a return from injury and Nicolas Jackson being back on the scoresheet recently, do you believe Chelsea even need to sign a new striker in January?
I think Chelsea needs to sign a new striker, but not one that’s going to make them break the bank. We haven’t seen Nkunku play yet and that’s obviously because he’s had a big injury, so as long as that doesn’t present any repercussions for him, then hopefully he can be the player that they signed him to be.
You wouldn’t want to go and spend big money on a new striker in January because there’s the chance that Nkunku could come back from injury and into top form. If that happens, you wouldn’t know who to play. I think Chelsea should sign an affordable option in case Nkunku isn’t able to hit the heights this season after his injury, but if he can get back to full fitness and firing, then the club already has a top striker on their hands.
Armando Broja is linked with a January move to Fulham. Do you believe it will be too hasty of your former club to allow him move to Craven Cottage on a permanent deal?
Unless Chelsea receive an offer that they couldn’t say no to, then I’d only allow him to leave on loan because he’s still young. If he goes on loan, then he can have the opportunity to bang in some goals, gain more experience and Chelsea would still have the option to bring him back.
An alternative to that would be to sell him and include a buy-back clause because young, goalscoring strikers are hard to find. You certainly wouldn’t want to let him go and end up kicking yourself a few years down the line, which is something Chelsea has unfortunately done on numerous occasions.
Manchester City are reportedly interested in signing Chelsea captain Reece James as they believe the England international is a potential long-term successor for Kyle Walker. Do you believe Reece would be interested in a move to the Etihad or do you believe he would never leave Chelsea for a Premier League rival?
If Reece James was to ever leave Chelsea for a Premier League rival, then it would definitely be for Manchester City. I can’t imagine him going to a fellow London team and it would be Manchester City purely because they’ll be competing at the very top for years to come. Players want to win things, so those links would definitely grab his attention.
Chelsea wouldn’t want him to leave, the price tag would be astronomical and that’s what’s going to make this move very unlikely. In terms of the player himself, of course, if Chelsea don’t bounce back and get to the point again where they’re fighting for honours across all fronts, then of course the move to Manchester City will pique his interest. All the best players want to win things and play for the best team, so I can see Reece James wanting to move to Manchester City, but not to any other Premier League team.
Cole Palmer has drawn comparisons to former Chelsea attacking midfielder Juan Mata, World Cup winner Ángel Di María, Premier League legend Dennis Bergkamp and his ex-teammate Riyad Mahrez. Does Cole remind you of any player, past or present, in particular? What qualities do you believe make Cole unique?
The way Cole Palmer moves reminds me of José Antonio Reyes when he was at Arsenal. The likes of Ángel Di María, Juan Mata, Dennis Bergkamp and Riyad Mahrez all have short, little touches, so they always have the ball under control and the ball’s always close to them.
He’s not like Arjen Robben, a winger that’s lightning quick and can go past people with ease. All the players in the list mentioned are all very intelligent footballers that keep the ball close, they’re very good in the holes, and he’s a young kid that’s always got his head on swivel, which you have to do when you’re in those areas and I think he does it very calmly.
For a young kid to be so aware of where he is on the pitch and being capable of getting himself in dangerous positions in such a calm manner, highlights that those qualities are his main attributes. He’s not going to scare a full-back one-on-one because he’s not quick or strong enough yet to get past people, but he doesn’t need to because he’s so clever with his movement and he’s so calm when he’s on the ball.
Do you believe Everton will stay up this season, despite their ten point deduction?
I’m unsure. Even before the ten point deduction, they were in a relegation battle anyway. They were on fourteen points before the deduction, so they were in a relegation battle then in my opinion. It’s not looking good for them at this moment in time. The only positive they have at the moment is that there are three teams worse than them in the Premier League currently.
Sky Sports reported yesterday that Manchester United could make a January move for RB Leipzig, and former Chelsea striker, Timo Werner. Considering his spell at Stamford Bridge, would you be surprised if Timo was a success at Manchester United?
I would be surprised. It really didn’t go well for him at Chelsea. It wasn’t the fact that he was unlucky, or there was a player taking his position that was on fire; he had all the opportunity to go on and be whatever he could be, and it didn’t happen in the Premier League. So I would be very surprised if Manchester United went for him, and if they did go for him, I would be very surprised if they saw a different Timo Werner.