Steve McManaman: “Liverpool have been the most convincing team so far in the Premier League title race”

Liverpool Premier League Odds to Win, Relegation & Top 4 - 23/24 Season

After the weekend’s Premier League action, which team in the title race do you believe has been the most convincing so far?

“I don’t think any of them have been overly convincing. I believe Liverpool have done well because the only defeat they’ve suffered this season was in the infamous game against Tottenham Hotspur, but they still haven’t exactly been blowing teams away. 

“Manchester City have done okay as well, beating the teams they should be beating, but I would say that Liverpool have probably played the hardest games so far out of the teams in the title race. They’ve played away from home against Brighton, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Tottenham, so the fact that they’re sitting close despite competing in those difficult fixtures is an indication that they’ve potentially been the most impressive so far out of all the title contenders. 

“I believe that all the teams around the top of the table currently are the sides that you’d expect to be there. None of them have slipped into first gear yet and once we come towards Christmas and there’s a break from European competition, then those who are going to go the furthest in this title race will start to kick on.”

Do you believe that Chelsea could fight their way into the Premier League title or top four debate?

“I spoke very highly of Chelsea after they played Liverpool in their opening Premier League fixture because I thought they were excellent, but then Reece James and Ben Chilwell got injured and their form dipped a little bit. 

“They should be higher up the league and they deserve to be given time. Every new signing needs time to settle in and Chelsea have about ten of them. I believe they will come good eventually and it’s now just a case of the players staying fit, allowing Mauricio Pochettino to choose his strongest starting eleven and getting on with it because they haven’t been given an opportunity to do that yet because of the number of injuries they’ve had and the turnover of players in their squad.” 

Bayern Munich’s Jamal Musiala is reportedly unhappy at Bayern Munich because he’s not considered a “guaranteed starter” at the Allianz Arena. Liverpool, as well as Manchester City, are said to be two of Musiala’s suitors but in your opinion, do you believe this move is a possibility for Liverpool in particular?

“I think he will always be linked with Liverpool because of Jürgen Klopp’s connection with the Bundesliga and Jamal’s English connection as well. I would be astounded if he was allowed to leave, especially at this moment because he scored the goal to win them the Bundesliga title last season, he’s young and he offers something completely different to what Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka bring to this Bayern Munich side. For those reasons, I would be amazed if they allowed him to leave.

“He will also be linked with English teams because he spent part of his childhood in England and he represented them at youth level. Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham were continuously linked with English teams whilst they were playing in the Bundesliga and for me, the rumours linking him with a move to Liverpool are a bit outlandish.”

Musiala’s Bayern Munich teammate Leroy Sané is also linked with a move to Anfield at present, with your former club reportedly believing that the ex-Manchester City man is a like-for-like replacement for Mo Salah, if the Egyptian international leaves Liverpool in the near future. If this move was to happen, would it excite you considering that he’s already previously been a success in the Premier League before returning to Germany with Bayern Munich?

“I’ve always liked him. Pep Guardiola allowed him to leave Manchester City without much of a fight and I don’t know whether that was because Leroy didn’t enjoy living in the North West of England. I’m not entirely sure.

“I really like players of Leroy’s ilk, players that can get around the outside of defenders and give their team a different option. At Liverpool Luis Díaz likes to cut in, Mo Salah likes to cut in and I would quite like to see them have an orthodox winger in their team because it would provide them with a different option and when they’re not beating a team one way, then they can try another way. Bayern Munich have always had players like Leroy in abundance. 

“I think Leroy Sané is an excellent footballer, but he wouldn’t come in as a direct replacement for Mohamed Salah because he’s a different type of player and he doesn’t score as many goals as Mo.”

How important do you believe Luis Díaz is for Liverpool?

“Luis Díaz is decisive, he likes to run at players and he’s very important to Liverpool. What’s most important about Liverpool’s forward line is that they have so many players in that department and they can all make an impact when they come off the bench. Darwin Núñez was an example of that on Saturday when he set up Mo Salah for Liverpool’s second goal against Everton. 

“Liverpool’s strength is having five forwards and I believe Mo Salah is still the most important one of the quintet. In the Merseyside Derby he scored twice despite not having a great game and that’s a testament to what a brilliant goal-scorer he is. When they’re all fit and well, their forward line is their biggest strength and the options they have to switch things up is amazing.”

Liverpool have reportedly joined the deluge of teams that want to sign Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who’s reportedly been unhappy in Naples. It’s said that the Nigeria international is available for £95 million, but can you see your former club spending that much money on another forward?

“No, I can’t see that move happening. Not at all. The only way this move can happen is if Mo Salah leaves because that would make sense for Liverpool because they’d receive £200 million for one player and pay £100 million for another, but there’s no chance they’d pay £100 million for Victor Osimhen in January if Mo doesn’t leave. They certainly don’t need six forwards. 

“It could definitely impact the development of Darwin Núñez and for me, this move doesn’t make sense at all. Osimhen is a really good player and he’s integral to what Napoli are doing at this moment in time, but I’d be amazed if he moved to Liverpool in January because he doesn’t suit that mold at all. Leroy Sané for Mo Salah makes more sense than Osimhen for Salah. Mo Salah and Victor Osimhen are completely different types of players, so it all depends on whether Darwin Núñez was allowed to leave or not, but I’m sure that’s not in Liverpool’s plan.

Liverpool are linked with a move for Sporting Lisbon centre-back Gonçalo Inácio. Regardless of whether you’ve been able to witness him in action or not, do you believe that your former club needs to add another centre-back to their ranks?

“Centre-back is certainly an area of the squad that Liverpool will look to strengthen next. Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip are both at a certain age and it’s now an area where Liverpool need to do their homework. I’m not saying that both those players are anywhere close to being finished, but Liverpool do need to start identifying potential successors for them over the next 18 months because you’ve got to keep the team ticking over and you need to keep moving forward. The youth is in Liverpool’s midfield and forward areas and now the centre of their defence should be the priority for them now when it comes to investing in additions. 

“Many of the other big teams will be looking to strengthen that area of their respective squads too. The transfer window just gone was a time where many of the top sides were strengthening the centre of their midfields, with Moisés Caicedo to Chelsea and Declan Rice to Arsenal being examples of that.  Next summer, central defensive players will be the most sought after and that’s going to drive up the price of prospective signings. I believe many teams will be looking to get their business done as soon as they can.”

Which defender already at the club do you believe is the ideal partner for Virgil van Dijk?

“I’d say Ibrahima Konaté at this moment in time. You have Joe Gomez who can play at centre-back, right-back and left-back, so he’s great to have when you consider his versatility. You have Jarell Quansah coming through as well and he’s only going to get better and better with experience and playing in the Europa League. However, when Konaté and Van Dijk play alongside each other, it’s a great blend of experience and youth and for those reasons, you can understand why this is Jürgen Klopp’s preferred partnership at this time.”

What are your thoughts on England fans booing former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson during the recent international break?

“I thought it was shocking. It’s shocking how Harry Maguire is getting treated and it’s shocking how Jordan Henderson is getting treated. You’re a football fan going to a game to support your country, so you should go with the intention of getting behind all the players. It’s awful.

“Jordan Henderson has gone to Saudi Arabia to play football and whether you like it or not, you should get behind him when he’s playing for England. When Jordan retires in two or three years, people won’t be interested in what he’s doing, but he will still need to look after his family and the people involved in his life.

“When you go to support England, you should support the entire team and not boo individuals.”  

Lionel Messi is the current favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. Do you believe he’s a deserved winner or should it have been Erling Haaland?

“When it comes to Lionel Messi, it’s always a fair decision because he’s such a super player. However, I don’t like awards being given out for a contribution to football and over the entire season, Erling Halaand has had the best year because he scored 52 goals in his first season at Manchester City and won the treble. 

“Messi being Messi and having the career he’s had, and winning the World Cup like he did, I have no qualms whatsoever about him being given the Ballon d’Or. He’s an incredible player and arguably the greatest to have ever stepped foot on a football pitch. 

“It’s incredibly unfortunate for Erling Halaand, but I think he will win plenty more awards if he has a season like he did last year. If he replicates that form this season, then he’ll probably win next year’s Ballon d’Or, but the only problem for him is that Harry Kane is scoring all kinds of goals for Bayern Munich.”

“ It’s like when Robert Lewandowski didn’t win it a few years ago because of covid. If anything, they should be giving out two awards this year, one for Messi’s contribution to the sport and one to Erling for being the best player.

“Messi does deserve it for his World Cup performances and because he’s always been judged for not winning it previously and some considered him to not be as great as Diego Maradona because he hadn’t been able to lead his country to a World Cup triumph, like Diego did in 1986. 

“The fact that he’s delivered a World Cup for Argentina, in arguably his last year of proper football because of his move to Miami, means he deserves the recognition and the award, but for Erling to not be recognised after winning the treble and scoring 52 goals is surreal. It would be nice if they gave out two awards, but sometimes football is a strange old world and if Messi wins it, nobody can argue.”

Kalvin Phillips is currently linked with moves to both Newcastle United and West Ham United. Do you believe he can possibly start for England at Euro 2024 without moving away from Manchester City in January?

“No. You have to play for your club if you’re going to play for your country.  If Manchester City get three injuries, Kalvin gets in the team and plays continuously between now and the end of the season, then of course he can start for England at Euro 2024, but he needs to guarantee game time for himself. 

“If Pep Guardiola is playing Rico Lewis, who’s a right-back, in the centre of midfield instead of Kalvin, then unfortunately that speaks for itself. He has to get out, he has to play football, he has to impress and he has to show everyone what an amazing footballer he is. If he can do that, then he could be in England’s starting eleven at Euro 2024.”

What’s your prediction for Sunday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford?

“Manchester United have done well in derby matches at Old Trafford in recent years. It all depends on what team they put out because if it’s the same team that played against Sheffield United on Saturday, then I would back Manchester City to win all day long. 

“We will have to wait and see how the European games pan out in midweek and whether both team’s players can avoid injury. If the game was today, and if it was the two identical line-ups that played at the weekend, I would back Manchester City in a heartbeat.”

Paul Scholes recently said that Jude Bellingham was “better than anything we’ve ever seen.” Do you agree with this notion and do you believe Jude is capable of becoming England’s greatest ever footballer?

“At the moment, Jude’s 20 years old, he’s flying high at Real Madrid and he’s just won the player of the month award in La Liga for the second time already this season. He’s playing for one of the best teams in the world and he’s a star there, so it all depends on who you compare him to. If you’re comparing him to Paul Gascoigne, then Jude’s a different type of player but he’s probably at a higher level than Paul was when he was 20 years old. 

“He’s certainly got the potential and ability to be one of the greats. At 19, he was voted player of the year in Germany and at 20 he’s starring for Real Madrid. Jude needs to keep moving forward. 

“Everybody gets carried away with England players and I like the fact that Jude’s playing his club football in Spain because he’s almost gone under the radar to a certain extent because Real Madrid matches aren’t televised often in the UK, so he’s being allowed to get on with his business without all the hype that he would have received if he was playing in the Premier League instead.  

“I remember Theo Walcott being chosen for England and everybody was raving about him. The same happened when Phil Foden was initially selected too. Sometimes we go overboard with our youngsters and put so much pressure on them, so let’s hope that Jude does become England’s greatest ever player because that would mean that he’s done a wonderful job for the national team.

“Let him just develop and improve with the likes of [Toni] Kroos and [Luka] Modrić around him at Real Madrid and allow him to get better, better and better. If he does win us the Euros or the World Cup one day, then I would love nothing more than to shout from the rooftops that he’s England’s greatest player.”

Do you expect Jude to make a big impression in his first El Clasico this weekend?

“I do. I watched Barcelona on Sunday night and [Robert] Lewandowski didn’t play and they had a couple of youngsters in their side and Marc Guiu won the game for them with his first touch. Barcelona have got a strong team and the additions of João Cancelo and João Félix have proved to be inspired signings. I think the game’s going to be feisty. It’s the first El Clasico in their temporary stadium, so it won’t be as hostile as usual because it’s got the big running track surrounding the pitch and it’s half the capacity of the Camp Nou.

“I think Real Madrid’s team on Saturday was stronger than the team that Barcelona fielded on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see what line-ups are chosen and whether Lewandowski is fit, but I hope that Jude Bellingham has a really big impact.

“I’m going to be at the game, so I hope that Jude puts in a man of the match display, he scores a hat-trick and helps Real Madrid claim the three points.”

After numerous goalkeeping errors this weekend, what are your thoughts on ball playing goalkeepers?

“It definitely brings more trepidation and anxiety to the fans when goalkeepers are trying to play out from the back and pass through tiny little spaces. I think it’s beneficial for us as fans because it brings more entertainment and we’re seeing more goals as a result of these errors. 

“It drives me crazy sometimes as an ex-player. I’m all for goalkeepers playing it out from the back and when I was starting out I played in the same team as Bruce Grobbelaar, who was one of the best goalkeepers with his feet. When we used to train, he used to play out and join in five-a-side games as an outfield player, so he was very good with his feet and I enjoyed playing with him. However, I don’t understand why goalkeepers feel the need to take risks. If the pass is there to play, play, but don’t try to play balls that are not on for the sake of it.

“I really enjoy it because the jeopardy is brilliant for us now as fans, but there’s times when I’m pulling my hair out and shouting ‘Kick the ball, just kick the ball long!’ There’s a time and a place to play out from the back and there’s a time and a place to just boot it up the field and get the ball 80 yards away from your goal.”

What are your thoughts on the competition between Aaron Ramsdale and David Raya at Arsenal? 

“Mikel Arteta believes that David Raya is better than Aaron Ramsdale. It’s as simple as that. Managers have to pick the player that they believe is best to occupy a certain position in the team. If a player comes along and you think they’re a better player than what you’ve currently got, then that’s your decision to make, so I don’t believe Mikel Arteta has made an error by creating competition in his goalkeeping department.

“Dropping a player that’s done well for you previously is always going to merit headlines. I know that Arteta has previously suggested that he could substitute his goalkeepers during games, but I think that’s a load of nonsense. He was just trying to cover up the fact that Raya is his number one and Ramsdale is his number two and was trying to take the attention away from their goalkeeping situation.

“As soon as Raya made a mistake, you knew that Mikel’s decision to drop Aaron Ramsdale was going to be brought to light again. What he does now will either exacerbate the situation or not and I believe he will stick with David Raya because he needs to stay as their number one because all goalkeepers make mistakes from time to time. You need to back your first choice, stick with them and give them the confidence to get through a tough period.”

If he’s to remain his club’s number two goalkeeper, do you believe Aaron Ramsdale needs to consider leaving Arsenal in January? 

“If Aaron Ramsdale really wants to leave to give himself the best opportunity of playing for England, and he’s not going to play much for his club, then there’s definitely a conversation to be had between himself and Arsenal.

“The European Championships are on the horizon and Aaron is currently Arsenal’s number two, so there’s a problem there for the player. I do expect Aaron to play some games for his club in European competition and in domestic cup matches but if you want to represent your country, then you have to be playing regularly at the highest level.

“I know that Jordan Pickford is England’s number one, but if you’re chosen for your national team and you’re not playing regularly for your club and suddenly you get thrown into the limelight and you make a mistake, then that’s awful for you. 

“You need to be playing all the time to keep your senses high, to keep your movement good and to keep your angles in form as a goalkeeper. Mikel Arteta is very eloquent with the press, and seems to be very open, so I presume he’s had a conversation with Ramsdale to explain what the situation is and whether he’s going to play or not. 

“All I can say, as a player, whether you’re a goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or  forward, if you want to represent your country at a major tournament, then you need to be playing all the time.”