Former Liverpool and Scotland midfielder Gary McAllister spoke exclusively to Lord Ping about the Reds’ Quadruple ambitions in light of their defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates.
With Coventry embroiled in a race for the Championship Play-Off places as well, McAllister previewed the race for the Premier League with former side Leeds also in the hunt for an automatic spot.
Heading north of the border, the former Rangers assistant manager also backed the Gers to usurp Celtic at the top of the table and backed Neil Warnock to be a success at Aberdeen
- I’m not worried about Van Dijk or Salah leaving
- Klopp has a tough decision with Connor Bradley and Trent
- ‘Really clever appointment’ Neil Warnock is exactly what Aberdeen needs
What did you think of the Arsenal game? Was it a case of missing Dominik Szoboszlai? Did Arsenal come out of the traps too hard?
GM - "I thought Arsenal were excellent to a man. Jorginho and Declan Rice were outstanding in midfield, as were Kai Havertz, Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard, and Bukayo Saka.
“Arsenal were good. I agree with Jurgen's comments - Liverpool never got going and I thought they were off it whilst Arsenal were on it. They deserved to win.
“The scoreline flattered Arsenal a bit, though. Liverpool equalised against the run of play, but they've been like that all season. They always find a way to get back into games.
“The big thing for me was the miscommunication between Van Dijk and Alisson as it's so rare. I don't think I've ever seen that happen! The result was a blip, and I think we'll see a big reaction from Liverpool next time."
There are still plenty of points to play for. Have Liverpool slipped?
GM - "Liverpool may have lost, but they're still top of the league. It's extremely tight and Man City are still chasing them, but they're still top.
“Liverpool are also in both domestic cup competitions and the Europa League, so it's not all doom and gloom. They'll bounce back."
How many trophies do you think Liverpool will win this season?
GM - "It's easy to sit here and tell Liverpool to stay focused and aim for their next game, but managers have to project forward. They have to prepare for different games, whether it's a home fixture in Europe, an away game in the FA Cup, or a League Cup final.
“Managers have to consider travel, too. They also have a lot of games to play this season, so recovery will be a massive feature. Jurgen has to use his squad and rotate players when needed. Nobody can play every single game!
“Liverpool will need to rest players to look ahead. A lot of focus will be needed, but my feeling is that Jurgen, his staff, and the players are all accustomed to this. Players will also have to play international games, too!
“It's just the territory they're in. Elite football is demanding, especially when you're pushing for every trophy you can.
“Fixture congestion was a factor when I played, too. Winning the Worthington Cup in 2001 was massive for us, and it catalysed for us to win the other two trophies. A February final will be grasped by the players and they'll take confidence from winning it."
Liverpool were competing on four fronts in 2022, and it didn't quite happen for them. How much will they have learned?
GM - "Liverpool can certainly draw on their experiences from the 2021/22 season, where they won two trophies out of four.
“Jurgen will have the players' attention focused on the next game instead of trebles or quadruples. It's easy to say, but Jurgen has plenty of experience of dealing with players of this level. He'll know how to keep them focused on their immediate opponents instead of projecting ahead."
We know that some Liverpool players are nearing the end of their contracts. Is there any concern from Liverpool that they could lose their key players?
GM - "Contract speculation has been rampant since Jurgen Klopp made his announcement last season, but Liverpool still have an amazing pull.
“I don't know why players would consider leaving a club that can be involved in four trophies in February! It's not easy to decide to leave the club as few, if any clubs, are above them in world football."
How do you reflect on your time at Liverpool? You became a cult hero at the club as the fans loved your performances. Was it magical?
GM - "The word 'magical' is very apt when describing my time at Liverpool. I may have been toward the end of my career and I knew I couldn't play every game, but I wanted to! It was amazing to be in that role. I couldn't wait until the next game because we were bouncing from FA Cup finals to UEFA Cup finals in a matter of days!
“There was so much closeness within the squad and management. We'd travel to games not being able to celebrate the previous one! We had to travel to Charlton after winning the UEFA Cup and win it to get a Champions League spot. It was like a dream for me, and magical for everyone involved in the club.
“We had experienced players like myself, Didi Hammann, Sami Hyppia, Stéphane Henchoz, Patrik Berger, Vladimir Smicer, and Markus Babbel, along with the young English players like Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Nick Barmby, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Danny Murphy, and Robbie Fowler.
“It was brilliant to be a senior player in that squad. I've said this before - if I helped anyone in my journey by even half an inch, it was worthwhile. I got so much inspiration from them, and it helped my play for another two years. It helped me prolong my career."
How impressed are you with the rise of Connor Bradley?
GM - "Connor Bradley's performances against Chelsea and Norwich were outstanding. His father will be up there and he'll be so proud of him.
“Bradley is such a breath of fresh air. He's so fearless in his passing, and he manages to drive the team from right-back. Trent is a few years older than him, and they're probably helping each other. Jurgen has a tough decision in front of him as they're both fantastic players!
“Connor Bradley seems to grow every game and get better and better. He was breathtaking against Chelsea. It's great to see a player properly arrive. It was fantastic to see.”
Can you foresee a system where Trent and Bradley play together?
GM - "There are definitely options open for Trent and Connor Bradley to play together. We do, however, need to consider how experienced Jurgen is in protecting young players.
“Bradley will be on a massive high, but there will be times when rotation is needed. It's not a case of Bradley taking on too much too soon, but young players need to be handled when big games are ahead."
Wataru Endo has delivered more than anyone could have predicted. He shone in the other game against Arsenal. Was he missed yesterday? How important will it be to get him back into the side?
GM - "I don't think the fans would have missed Endo in the early part of the season as he was finding it hard. All of a sudden, though, he showed a belief and he was up to the speed of the Premier League.
“The midfield is a hard area in English football. Other European leagues allow you more time to make a pass and receive the ball, but there are no 'gimmies' in the Premier League and it takes time to adapt. I think Endo was getting up to speed initially.
“The narrative has changed, and now fans want him back from the Asia Cup. He'll be so influential ahead of these important games. He's almost a natural 6 - unlike Mac Allister, Szoboszlai, and Gravenberch, who all like to bomb forward.
“Endo plays in front of the centre-backs and he's more comfortable when playing in that role. He's even managed to score some goals! He's an experienced player who just needed time. You don't always get it, but Endo was starting to show belief before he went away.
Mark Robins was fuming after the Norwich game, what did you make of it?
GM - "I think Liam Kitching's red card was deserved. Norwich players were surrounding the referee to influence him, but that's only natural.
“Coventry took the lead before losing the lead. It was a lovely finish by O'Hare. Victor Torp also had a couple of good long-range efforts.
“It's going to be tough for Coventry. I think Leicester will win the league, and the competition between Southampton, Leeds, and Ipswich will be fierce. I can't, however, see past the three teams who went down last season coming back up come May. I'd like to see Leeds do well as they're another one of my old clubs with a very experienced manager.
“I'd have to fancy Southampton or Leeds in a playoff situation. West Brom, Hull, Ipswich, Watford, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland all have Premier League pedigree, whereas Coventry haven't had that luxury over the last few years. It'll be tough to even get a playoff place, but they've shown that they're capable of going on a long run.
“It'd be nice to see Leeds, Leicester, and Coventry come back up. They're all clubs I played for!"
Do you think the playoffs are Leeds' best bet to come back up? Can they finish second?
GM - "Southampton are flying at the moment, but the Championship is a tight league because games happen so often. So much can change within a month.
“Leeds have been excellent at home and they're starting to get results away. They've got Patrick Bamford back, Wilfried Gnonto and Georginio Rutter firing, and they seem to be moving forward. I think they have goals in the team, and enough to boost them to the second spot.
“I'm always drawn to the middle of the park - as that's where games are won and lost. I worked with Glen Kamara at Rangers, and he's settled in really well. Ethan Ampadu has been really impressive, too, and I think there are enough quality midfielders to control games and win them.
“It's always nice to see a Gray in the team! Young Archie Gray, the son of Andy Gray, is a member of an amazing family."
Are you happy to see Archie Gray out of position as long as he's in the team?
GM - "Daniel Farke is playing Archie Gray at right-back and he wants someone to be aggressive and get forward. Archie is accustomed to being in those positions as he's a midfielder.
“I think playing Archie there gives them a lot of options. He's not a natural right-back, but playing there gives you a window into the entire game and gives young players the chance to get their decisions right. You can dominate games from that side of the pitch."
Steven Gerrard played as a right-back, too. How did it help him?
GM - "Gerrard had no fear of playing at right-back. The manager wanted to release him and get him up the pitch."
What did you make of Leeds' January business?
GM - "Leeds only signed Connor Roberts in January, but I think Wilfried Gnonto, Crysencio Summerville, and Georginio Rutter will be the ones asked to provide Bamford and Joël Piroe with chances.
“The front five are key. You have to score goals to win games, and I think Ethan Ampadu, Glen Kamara, and Ilia Gruev are also key players. I also like Jamie Shackleton."
Rangers brought in Óscar Cortés and Mohamed Diomande in January. Are you happy with that business? What do you make of Fabio Silva?
GM - "I think Fabio Silva is a talent. He was a 'nearly' man at Wolves, but he showed flashes. It'll help him to get a run of games at Rangers. He was highly rated in Portugal. I like Todd Cantwell, too.
“Both Oscar Cortes and Mohamed Diomande are young players. Cortes is a Colombian player, and Rangers have signed Colombians before as was the case with Alfredo Morelos - who divided opinion.
“Cortes is a player who I've not seen a great deal of, but he can play across the front line. He's capable of playing out wide, or as a ten, where Cantwell plays. I've heard some reports about him, and I think he plays without fear and enjoys taking shots from outside the box. He's an exciting prospect and I think he'll be tasked with unlocking teams who arrive at Ibrox and park the bus.
“Diomande has been playing in Denmark, and the reports I've heard suggest that he's very energetic and more of a box-to-box player. He's not great at scoring or assisting, but he can be very effective.
“It'll be tough for them to unseat Ryan Jack and John Lundstram as they've been at the club for a while and they're both very competitive. They're players who aren't happy on the bench - they want to be playing. Ryan Jack has had his injury struggles as of late, but he's a ferocious competitor.
“Shifting those guys will be a big job for Phillipe Clement, but he didn't sign the new boys for no reason!"
Do you think Rangers can catch Celtic?
GM - "I think Rangers still have a chance. Celtic battered Aberdeen on the weekend, but they couldn't get the job done. I don't know what Peter Leven's halftime speech was composed of, but it must have worked wonders!
“I had a few friends at the game, and they were full of praise for Aberdeen in the second half. They should have won!
“I fancy Rangers to beat Aberdeen on Tuesday night, and that'll have a psychological impact on Celtic, who play the night after. It'll be a massive boost for Rangers if they can win."
What do you make of Neil Warnock's arrival at Aberdeen?
GM - "I've had battles as a player against Warnock's teams and I came up against him at Coventry. He's a great character and I have a lot of respect for him. He's had over 1,000 games as a manager, and he's very unique.
“He's also exactly what Aberdeen need. They've dropped away from the top four of the SPL, and they should be the main club outside of the big two as far as I'm concerned. They should be pushing the Old Firm - with all due respect to the Edinburgh clubs.
“Neil is a really clever appointment. His charisma would really help that group of players."
Everton will play Liverpool next month, and I'm always reminded of that game and that goal. In terms of your memories of that game in 2001, how can you sum it up?
GM - "The famous Merseyside derby in 2001 had everything. It was like a basketball game. It was so end-to-end.
“The end of the game meshed into the fairy tale story I had at Liverpool. We had a free-kick late on in the game, and we almost scored from an earlier one. I'd put the ball to the back post and asked one of the guys to head it. I think Sami Hyppia almost did!
“I did the same free kick in the dying moments of the game - hang it to the back post and hope that one of the bigger guys would smash a header in. I could see that Paul Gerrard was keen to collect a cross and finish the game. I had a feeling that he'd move to the left, so I smashed the ball to his right-hand side. I don't tire of watching that goal to this day!
“To see Gerard Houllier, Phil Thompson, and Sammy Lee with the biggest smiles on their faces is something I'll never forget."
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