Glen Johnson during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield, Liverpool, November 2010.

Glen Johnson: ‘Van Dijk’s form is just a blip, I expect him to bounce back’

“I think it’s just been a bit stop-start. You’re almost waiting and waiting and waiting for them to go on this four, five, six-game unbeaten run and it’s just not happened.”

Glen Johnson isn’t the only person associated with Liverpool to feel frustrated at their underwhelming campaign. After last season’s quadruple push, few saw Jurgen Klopp’s side falling so far off the pace.

“They’re putting on a performance where you think they’re back, they could go on a run, they’ve got a good few fixtures coming up and then, like, take the Man United game, for example,” Johnson said in an extensive chat with AceOdds.com.

“They absolutely blew Man United away and you think, they’ve got a couple of relatively easier fixtures on paper, but then they go and lose those games. They’re so hot and cold.

“But I think they’ve shown glimpses where they’re Liverpool of old, but it’s not been anywhere near frequent enough.

“But like I say, I’ve said it many times, you expect them to go on a run, but I’ve said it so many times and they haven’t. And obviously, they’re running out of games now.

“So I really think for the progression of next year and even the year after, I think these last eight games are going to be the foundations for that.”

But the former Liverpool defender, who made 200 appearances for the Reds between 2009 and 2015, did identify the performances of Darwin Nunez as one positive from their season.

“I’d probably say Nunez has impressed me,” he said. “There’s a few, to be honest. I think there’s probably been a couple more by their standards, slightly more disappointing than good.

“But I think Nunez is, like I said, that’s what Liverpool have done so well over the years. They bought players that maybe didn’t have the biggest name or biggest CV at the point of signing them, but they knew they was on the upward curve and they’ve delivered almost straight away.

“So I think that’s what Liverpool have done very well. And he’s one of them. Certainly with Diaz as well. So, yes, I’d probably say Nunez was a big positive and I think he could be a great player for many years now. I think he’s really enjoying the Premier League and he suits that sort of style.”

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Liverpool's Xabi Alonso during their Premier League defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, London, October 2004.

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Despite this, Johnson admitted that missing out on Champions League football would make Liverpool’s season a failure.

“I think it’d have to go down as a failure,” the former England defender said.

“But again, just because they’ve been competing at the top and going deep in most tournaments for the last few years and people aren’t expecting them to miss out on the top four before the season. You’re thinking it’s a given.

“But it has been a strange season, with I know United are in there now, but they haven’t hit their peak, Chelsea definitely haven’t hit their peak, Arsenal are playing ten times better than anyone expected, so are Newcastle.

“So it’s been a bit of a weird season in terms of the so-called big four or five, they just haven’t been striking gold at the moment. Other than Arsenal or City, really.

“So, yeah, it’s been a bit of strange season, but I still think they’ve got a chance because I do think they’re going to go on a three/four game run Liverpool, so I think if they do that, then they’re going to have a serious chance of getting in the top four.

“But to answer the question, I think if they don’t, it will be a failure.”

Many observers have been critical of Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold this year, but Johnson offered a defence of both.

“I think it’s just a blip, to be honest,” when asked about Van Dijk’s form.

“I don’t think you can go from so good, to his performances at the moment in three, four, five months. So, no, I don’t think he’s past it at all. And also in his defence, there’s players around him that are also dipping in form.

“So when they could all trust each other of Van Dijk winning the header or a fullback tucking in, you just knew when players are confident, you know, people are going to be in the right position.

“When people start questioning, is he going to be there, is he going to win it or whatever, then all of a sudden you’re all second guessing your positions. So once you’ve got two or three people that are doing that, it’s a collective dip in form.

“I don’t think it’s just him, I think there’s probably three or four big players that were ten out of ten last season that are just slightly below par. So I think once they get a bit of form, find a bit of rhythm, then I expect them to bounce back.”

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Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, November 2022.

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And, when asked about Alexander-Arnold’s new advanced role in recent matches, Johnson said. “I don’t think you can find a role to suit one player.

“Trent is obviously a fantastic player, there’s no doubt about that, but I think sometimes when you’re trying to find a position for a player, that’s kind of a bit awkward and it could dislodge some other players, for example.

“So, look, he’s definitely capable of doing this role that we’ve seen in the last few games, but I don’t think it’s a long-term solution. But in certain games, against certain opposition, then it can definitely be a threat.

“But there’s going to be games when you’re playing against better opposition and you’re just not going to get away with some of the stuff they’re getting away with.

“Against Leeds, no disrespect to them, but Leeds are really, really struggling at the moment. They could have played any way they wanted and won that game. So, yes, it looked great, but can that happen against the top four/five? Maybe not, but it might not need to.

“It might be a string to their bow that they can use against a team that’s going to sit back and they’re going to dominate possession. So I think it’s a good weapon to have in the armoury, but I don’t think it would be a regular position week in, week out.”

Johnson finished by predicting Liverpool would rise again under Klopp, however disappointing this season has been for Liverpool.

“Obviously Klopp’s done an amazing job,” he said. “But there’s no doubt about it at the minute, it’s almost like he’s starting again in terms of the rebuilding and where he needs to get the club back from.

“But look, he’s the man that did it before, so I have no doubt in him. If he was to miss out on top four, even if you take Klopp’s name away, if he misses out two years in a row, then I think you come under big question marks.

“But I don’t think they will. I think if they miss out this season, you would make a calculated bet that they’d get in the top four next year, I’m sure. But certainly, Klopp’s got a tough job and he said himself at the moment he’s not under pressure because of his past.

“If it was this result under a new manager, they’d probably be much more in the firing line.

But I say he’s done it once, he could definitely do it again. I think we just need a lot more fresh faces that have the energy to live up to the expectation that he wants, because it’s tough to maintain that effort and work rate with the same players over the course of six years.”

By Michael Lee

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