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Glen Johnson on AFCON’s impact on Liverpool: “Any game without your key men is going to be crucial

Glen Johnson believes that Liverpool's title hopes could be impacted by AFCON.
Glen Johnson believes that Liverpool's title hopes could be impacted by AFCON.

The Premier League title race continues to heat up as Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea were all victorious in their respective fixtures over the past weekend. BettingOdds.com have been speaking to former Liverpool full-back Glen Johnson regarding his former club’s title prospects amid worries they may be heavily impacted by losing key players over the course of the African Cup of Nations. Glen also speaks about the role of Roberto Firmino, speculation regarding Raheem Sterling getting a new contract at Manchester City and a potential Premier League return for Jose Mourinho.

Do you think Liverpool’s title challenge will suffer due to the Africa Cup of Nations and that congested new year schedule?

“Yes, possibly. I know that Liverpool are asking for their players to be released on December 27th which means they’ll miss fewer fixtures and if that’s the case then that would be less threatening as it could be. However if Liverpool lose a couple of their key players for four or five games then that could be a massive blow because I don’t think anybody’s going to win this league by eight or nine points. You could finish two points from the top and finish third, so I think any game without your key men is going to be crucial.”

 

In your eyes, has Diogo Jota firmly displaced Roberto Firmino as one-third of Liverpool’s best attacking triptych? At 30 years old with a contract expiring in 2023, what do you predict will be Firmino’s role at the club, and will he have an important part to play while several key members of the squad head off to the Africa Cup of Nations?

 

“Firmino is still a key player in the squad. Jota certainly has a bigger goal threat and probably should have had two more last weekend against Wolves. Firmino may not be as big a goal threat but he certainly can bring others into the game and link up play really well. Liverpool are obviously going to lose a few players due to the Africa Cup of Nations, but as long as Firmino comes in and picks up where he left off then he will still have a big role to play.”

 

Who do you believe is the biggest loss through their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations to their respective clubs: Mohamed Salah at Liverpool or Eduoard Mendy at Chelsea?

 

“The hardest one to replace is Mo, in terms of individual ability. But Liverpool have players to come in, as opposed to the situation with Eduoard Mendy at Chelsea. It’s also tough with Mendy. You would rather Mo in your team than Mendy, but at the same time you’d rather Roberto Firmino come in to replace Salah instead of Mendy’s replacement, if that makes sense. In that sense, because of that question, I think Mendy is the biggest loss.” 

 

Premier League odds

Despite his performance this weekend against West Ham, Eduoard Mendy has had yet another impressive season, so far, between the sticks for Chelsea. Where would you rank Mendy amongst the top goalkeepers in the league?

 

“It’s a tough one. I’d say he’s third behind Alisson and Ederson, but that isn’t a negative to Mendy as it’s just a case of the other two being so good. I would say that Ederson is the best because of how good he is with his feet and how sometimes he acts like another defender and allows others to stand in more attacking positions.”

 

Manchester United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick in a piece for The Athletic last year admitted to being a huge fan of Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and stated that he had been scouting him during his spell as RB Leipzig manager. The bookies’ odds suggest that Bellingham’s next move will be to your former side Liverpool, but do you believe the emergence of Rangnick at United could give them an edge in their pursuit?

 

“I don’t know. This kid has a clear mind on him. He made a really ballsy decision to go to Germany when he was so young and decided to leave his comfort zone to prove what he can do. For me, it was genius. I don’t think he’s going to rush into anything as he could have probably signed for Manchester United or Liverpool before he went to Borussia Dortmund. To turn away clubs like that and head to Germany in the way he did was gold dust. Not many kids turn down clubs of that calibre. He will make the right decision when he’s ready and if he rocked up at Liverpool then ‘wow’. The kid’s unbelievable and I think he will suit that team down to the ground.”

 

Steven Gerrard is apparently seeking defensive reinforcements and the new Aston Villa manager is targeting a loan move for 24-year-old Liverpool and England defender Joe Gomez. Gomez has missed over 100 potential Premier League games since his debut for the first-team in 2016. Would this be a sensible move for Gomez?

 

“Everything’s about timing. He is a young lad and he has struggled with injuries. But Liverpool’s a tough side to break into - you can quickly become 27th in the pecking order! A couple more injuries and the time flies and Liverpool do well and you struggle to get in the side. You don’t want to be playing one game a month, you won’t gain any momentum doing that. But as long as his body’s strong enough and he believes that he can play week in week out, then I definitely think he would look at going out on loan. Whether Liverpool let him or not is a different matter.

“For Gomez to get into the England squad is relatively straightforward. But you don’t just want to be in the squad, you want to be starting every game. For me, if he wants to be starting those games and be remembered as a full international, he’s got to be playing week in week out going into the tournament, to prove he’s fit and that he is back to his best. Being picked on his ability, that’s a given, and he’s playing in a position that England need help in right now.”

 

Despite all the money that they have spent, Manchester City has maintained a fairly respectable wage structure. But with reports that Manchester City will step up their efforts to secure the 26-year-old England winger Raheem Sterling, who has been linked with a move to Barcelona, on a long-term contract, do you think an increased salary for the £300,000 per week winger could disrupt City’s harmony. Is it just that England internationals are all the more treasured?

 

“If you have Kevin de Bruyne, for example, and another guy who isn’t starting every week is on £500k a week, and you’re not, you’re going to be asking ‘well hold on, I’m the one winning all these games!’ They’re superb professionals who are all on an awful lot of money, but they’ll be a couple who’ll be like ‘I’m playing every week and even I’m not getting that, and this guy’s on the bench at the moment!’ So I think it could disrupt the harmony.

“In terms of the English players, of course they are certainly more precious because of certain Premier League rules. But I don’t think City need to pay him a lot more, because Barcelona can’t pay that, can they?!”

 

Today's Football Tips

Has Leicester City been affected by their manager Brendan Rodgers being linked to Manchester United?

 

“Yes. You’ve got a team and a squad that should be performing better than they are. We all know that Brendan would have his eye on that United job. We all know that. So if we all know that, then the players know that. So, yes, I do think it is a distraction. I’m not suggesting that Brendan has taken his eye off the ball directly with Leicester, but sometimes subconsciously that is what happens. The temptation is definitely going to be there and it’s probably affecting all of them.”

 

If your former manager Rafael Benítez was to depart Everton, another of your former managers José Mourinho is one of the names tipped with succeeding him. Mourinho’s Roma have lost their last two Serie A games and have scored just once in their past three fixtures. Do you believe he would relish another crack in the Premier League and could you see that move working for Mourinho and Everton?

 

“Probably not. Mourinho is a fantastic manager and he’s won things over the years. But he doesn’t sign for clubs that he doesn’t think he can’t win the league with. If he did take over at Everton, it would be the first time he’s ever had to fight to get into the top ten in the league. Normally he signs for world class clubs who are going for big medals and big titles, or in the Champions League. I can’t believe he would be happy fighting to finish in the top ten. I don’t think it would work. He’s not a man that likes losing. And at Everton, you’re not going to be winning every week.”

 

And finally, your former side West Ham United are constantly linked with a move for Burnley defender James Tarkoswki. Would he be the perfect replacement for the injured Angelo Ogbonna?

 

“Yeah, possibly. Tarkowski’s a solid player. He’s not going to set the world alight or do anything to surprise us. He’s a good lad because you don’t hang around Burnley unless you are one and I think he’d settle in well at West Ham. But whether it is Tarkowski or someone else, West Ham definitely need to get someone in. Obviously they’ve lost Ben Johnson now as well, at the weekend against Chelsea, and a couple of others, so they’re running thin. If they struck a deal with him, they could do something similar as they did with Craig Dawson. It’s a similar situation. Dawson’s a hard-working pro and he’s come there and he’s been a good signing. And as long as West Ham can get Tarkowski for similarly sensible money, then I think they should.”

 

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