Glen Johnson talks Liverpool v Arsenal, names Premier League winners and does not want Everton to be relegated
Glen Johnson won the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup twice in spells with Chelsea, Liverpool and Portsmouth.
In an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes, the former England defender spoke about his time with all three clubs ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, but he started by discussing Wednesday’s game between Liverpool and Arsenal, and picked out the team he thinks will win the Premier League.
Liverpool will beat Arsenal on Wednesday, but game will be much tougher than reverse fixture
Right now, you’ve got to say this is a slippery fixture for Liverpool. If this game was being played a couple of months ago, you’d put it down as an easy win – but I don’t think that’s the case now.
Arsenal have found some form, they’re playing really well and they’re winning games. They’re digging out results now and they didn’t have that backbone a couple of months ago. They’ve got themselves into fourth spot quietly, and I think it’s going to be a really tough game for Liverpool. If I had to stick my neck out, I’d say Liverpool edge it 2-1.
There’s absolutely no chance that anyone would have backed Arsenal for a top-four spot even two months ago, let alone the start of the season.
They had such a bad start, but Mikel Arteta deserves a lot of credit, and what he’s done very well is get rid of the bad apples in that team. Some eyebrows were raised when certain players went out the door, but he knows that squad much better than we do, and now look what the team are doing – they’re clearly in a much better place both on and off the pitch without some of those players.
The team he’s got at the moment isn’t good enough to compete for the title – yes, they’re on a good run right now, but once you make the top four and you’re in the Champions League you’ve then got to think about the next step. And if they want to close that gap on the top two or three in the league, they still need to improve and bring in reinforcements. They certainly need a new striker in the next transfer window, and then a couple of midfielders and centre-halves. Listen, they’ve got some decent players, but they’re not good enough to be competing with the best in the division consistently.
I fancy Liverpool to pip City to the post in the title race
Of course, Liverpool already have the Carabao Cup wrapped up this season, but I’m expecting at least one more trophy to come in the next few months. I think Liverpool can pip Man City in the title race, purely because of the momentum they’ve shown in the last few weeks.
City went on that unbelievable run earlier on in the season – I think they won 12 games in a row and were 14 points ahead of Liverpool (who had a couple of games in hand) – so for Liverpool to close the gap this quickly is incredible.
I’m not saying City look like slowing down, but Liverpool are on the way up. They’ve won their last eight and I see them wearing City down and catching them right at the end.
Liverpool have obviously got to try to keep hold of Mo Salah who is one of the best players in the world. But at the same time, you can’t be held to ransom as a football club. The board have to remain strong but also stay flexible in order to do as much as they can to keep him at the club. They won’t want to break those parameters which they refer to when bringing in players in the first place. It’s a tough one but, I don’t think he wants to leave and obviously Liverpool want him to stay. If that’s the case then it should be an easy deal to do.
If Salah does leave, though, then the club definitely need to replace him. We’ve been saying for years that they’ve relied heavily on Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, whereas now they’ve got Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz. But given the amount of competitions they’re constantly going deep in, they would absolutely need to bring in a replacement for Salah and not just rely on those four names – just to keep that depth in the squad.
Abramovich came to my house to convince me to return to Chelsea, but here’s why I opted for Liverpool
I had a couple of options open to me when I left Portsmouth – and a return to Chelsea or even a move up to Manchester City we’re both massively on the cards before I settled on Liverpool. I had Roman [Abramovich] and his team over at my house and they were trying to get me to return to the club, and I was super close to doing so.
It was actually Tottenham Hotspur who were first to the table, but that offer came halfway through the season. That one fizzled out as the campaign went on, then I’d say Chelsea were the next ones who expressed serious interest in me, then Man City came in and obviously Liverpool also came along. It’s a tough decision when you’ve got three world-class teams trying to sign you. Don’t get me wrong it’s a nice problem to have, but I feel like I made the right choice in the end.
I’d already spoken to the majority of the Liverpool players before I made the move – they didn’t have to reach out to me, but a few of them did so beforehand and they were desperate for me to go there.
I also wanted a new challenge. I liked the idea of moving away from London. Look, I could have signed for Chelsea and stayed living in the same house I was sat in with Roman when he tried to bring me back. I knew the area well, my friends and family were all nearby, and it would have been easy for me in terms of settling. But I actually thought moving away would help me and the family, going and experiencing somewhere new, not knowing what to expect, and representing a fantastic club at the end of it.
Gerrard will manage Reds in future
I definitely think Stevie [Gerrard] will one day become Liverpool manager, for sure. He’s done a great job wherever he’s been. He’s obviously still relatively new to the managerial role but he’ll be learning things every single day. The longer he spends away from Liverpool, learning the trade and going through certain situations, it’ll only give him more armour as a manager. I definitely think he’ll manage Liverpool, but it’s hard to say when.
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool aren’t slowing down any time soon, and whoever comes in after Klopp is going to have very big shoes to fill – so will Stevie be his immediate replacement? I’m not sure.
I might be a Red, but I don’t want Everton to go down
I’m probably more surprised than most when it comes to Everton’s current position in the table. I thought they would have a really good season. They brought in some impressive players last summer on decent deals. I might be a Red, but I don’t want Everton to go down at all. I want them to stay in the league. I want that derby to still be on the fixture list next season. But they’re just not firing at the moment, they’re really not.
I don’t think they’ll go down, but this far into the season, the league table doesn’t lie, and some of the matches they’ve still got to play are horrendous. They’re struggling and Lamps [Frank Lampard] has got a really tough job on his hands. I think it’s proving to be a lot tougher than he thought it was going to be. I hope they can stay in the league – I don’t want them to go down.
You’ve seen some huge clubs get relegated from this division over the years, so your Premier League status isn’t guaranteed just because of your name. And when you look at some of the games they’ve got coming up, coupled with their terrible form of late, you know, they really are in trouble.
They’ve got to play so many teams currently in the top eight – that is not the fixture list you want. You do have to worry for them. You look at some of the other teams down there, take Burnley for example, they know how to grind out results. Whether you think it’s pretty to watch or not, they know how to get results. Everton just don’t have that at the moment.
We felt like we’d stolen a medal winning the FA Cup with Portsmouth, which is ironic as my actual medal got stolen!
The FA Cup is a massive part of the English game, and I’m lucky enough to have gone all the way and won it with Portsmouth back in 2008. It was a great achievement in terms of the scenario. We certainly weren’t thinking about winning it back in the third round, and I know for a fact we wouldn’t have been anywhere near the favourites at the beginning.
But we had a fantastic team, a great bunch of lads and we enjoyed ourselves. At the time, we had a really good group of players there, players who have gone on to join some of the biggest clubs in world football. We knew on our day we could beat anyone, and that season, in that competition, things just went our way.
I was lucky enough to win a few trophies throughout my career, but with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, you’re expected to win, so the Portsmouth one almost had an extra edge for me, if I’m being honest. It’s kind of like a medal that we stole from the big boys, if you like… which is ironic because my medal was actually stolen from me on the night I won it!
Me and Jamie [Ashdown] both had them nicked. We rushed back to the hotel after the game, quickly got changed and headed out to celebrate. I’d hidden my medal in a sock, I think, wrapped it up in some clothes and put it in my bag. I didn’t think anything of it while I was out, but when I got back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning, the first thing I did was obviously check it was still there. It was gone.
It’s not like I’d left it on the side so someone could walk in and see it – it was bloody well hidden! So someone had been in my room, rummaging through my stuff looking for it. I went down to tell everyone at breakfast and that’s when Jamie told me the same thing had happened to him. It was an absolute nightmare. Luckily the FA made us both another one, which was really nice of them, but it’s just not the same.
No one ever got to the bottom of it either, so someone out there still has it. All I’ll say is, if you’re going to do that sort of thing, you’re a scumbag, so we’ll never know what happened to them. I don’t get it. I don’t get why someone would do something like that. What are you going to do with it? You can’t sell it, you’ve not gained anything – you’re just a pain in the arse.
Going in goal for Chelsea – my 100% clean sheet record
I can safely say I’ve never fancied myself as a goalkeeper. When I was a kid, I’d give it a go from time to time if I was playing with my mates, but I was never any good – so I was as surprised as anyone when I was handed the keeper’s shirt away at St James’ Park in 2006.
I was born in Greenwich and grew up in Dartford, but believe it or not I actually supported Newcastle when I was younger. When I was seven or eight, I went to school in south London but my best mate was a Geordie, so when we used to go back to his house, I’d see him and his dad in their Newcastle kits and so I just copied them.
Anyway, I signed for Chelsea and in 2005, under Jose Mourinho, we’re away at St James’ Park and we go 1-0 down. Jose makes three changes at half-time, Wayne Bridge broke his leg which put us down to 10 men and with a few minutes to go, Carlo Cudicini gets sent off for a foul on Shola Ameobi.
Obviously we couldn’t make another substitution and because I was stood closest to the dugout, Carlo had to pass me on his way down the tunnel. As he’s walking off, he just looked at me, I’ve looked at me, I’ve looked at the bench and no one has said anything. The next thing you know, Carlo’s chucked me his gloves. I’m like ‘right, well it looks like I’m going in goal then!’ I walked over to the bench and spoke to the gaffer. I told him I didn’t mind going in goal and he just told me to do it.
The first thing I had to face? A bloody Laurent Robert free-kick from just outside the box, and as we know, he’s got a thunderbolt of a left-foot. To be fair, if you watch the game back, I’ve actually made a decent save. He’s struck it so hard that it hits me and nearly reaches the halfway line without bouncing.
Still, though, I kept a clean sheet. On paper I’m one of the best goalkeeper’s of all time – 100% clean sheet record!
Memories of being Abramovich’s first signing & why, for me, Reece James gets the nod over TAA for England
I was the first player to come in under Roman Abramovich’s ownership at Chelsea – so I didn’t really know exactly what the new era would end up looking like. It was only in the next few transfer windows you could see the direction we were heading in, and I just thought ‘wow, this is some team’.
Obviously I knew I was joining a top club, which already had some unbelievable players, but I wasn’t too sure exactly who else would be joining over the next few months. It was completely crazy and something that none of us had ever experienced before, so of course it was exciting times. I loved my time at Chelsea.
We don’t know how long things are going to go on behind the scenes at Chelsea, but the most important thing is that the players are keeping their eye on the ball on the pitch – they’re playing well and winning games. There’s lots going on in and around the club but, to their credit, the players are remaining professional, and that’s all they can do.
On a wider scale this season, Chelsea have just drawn too many matches – it’s easy to see why they’re so far off the top two in the table. They’re a fantastic side, everyone knows that, but if you’re not consistently at your best in this division, then teams are obviously good enough to take points from you, and that’s what Chelsea have experienced on too many occasions this season. They had a stage earlier on in the campaign where they just weren’t scoring, and were conceding far too many goals than we were used to seeing.
The club thought the arrival of Romelu Lukaku would go a long way towards fixing problems at the top end of the pitch, but it’s not working at the moment. They’re still a fantastic side, though – but they’re probably about eight points off where they should be, in my opinion.
All the top sides will be on the look-out for reinforcements throughout the season, and with a couple of defenders seemingly set to leave the club on frees in the summer, you’ve got to say that’s probably the area which needs addressing the most in the next transfer window.
Thomas Tuchel has been great for Chelsea, and he’s won a lot of people over recently. He came in and a lot of people were hesitant because he was replacing Frank [Lampard] – but Tuchel has been brilliant.
Of course, winning the Champions League went a long way towards getting the fans on his side, but overall the team look a lot stronger, harder to beat, and the way he handles himself off the pitch is first class. I fully believe other clubs would be interested him, because he’s world class. It would be a massive loss if he were to go any time soon, but even with everything going on behind the scenes, I don’t think he wants to leave. Hopefully, things sort themselves out off the pitch and normal service can resume.
I’d have to say Reece James gets the nod for me when looking at the right-backs England have to choose from. We’re very lucky at the moment to have three or four world-class right-backs who all possess different attributes. I just think Reece is the best all-rounder. It would be a tough choice, but if it were down to me, I’d go with Reece.
Man United should have been challenging for the title
I thought Manchester United would be challenging for the title this season. I actually thought they were going to go close this year. No one was talking about them last season, and they managed to finish second with a terrible home record, so I just thought that the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane meant they would come back with a bang this season, but they just haven’t. At least, not to the levels I expected of them.
They’re floating around fourth and fifth and they’ve not really got going and pushed on. I don’t see Ralf Rangnick being there next season. I think behind the scenes they knew this was an interim job. I don’t think he’s the man for the job – but as for who? Blimey, I’ve got no idea. Listen, they’re a massive club, obviously, but it’s not an easy job.
A lot of people will be interested, of course, and whether Rangnick is or isn’t working behind the scenes next season, I don’t think it’ll deter anyone from coming in. If Man United appoint you, they’ve chosen you over Rangnick, so you wouldn’t be too afraid at whatever position he’s given behind the scenes.
If he is moved into a different role, and the right person is brought in, it’s important that those two names can work with each other, and Rangnick’s extra pair of eyes watching over things could actually be of great benefit to the new man in charge.