Shaun Wright-Phillips exclusive interview
The ex-Manchester City and Chelsea star discusses the big clash at the weekend between his two former sides and more.
Manchester City v Chelsea
Who do you think will come out on top of this game on Saturday - Manchester City of Chelsea?
"It will be a tight game on Saturday but City will be too strong for Chelsea and will come out on top. It’s a difficult one to call, both teams are on fire at the minute.
"Lampard has his team playing brilliant football but this is an absolute must-win game for City after the Liverpool defeat and I think that will fuel them on to victory. Of course, a Chelsea win would be a massive statement for the club, it will show that they can contest with the big boys."
Which player do you think will have the final say in deciding the tie?
"The attacking players will decide the outcome of the match; both City and Chelsea have so much offensive talent at their disposal. On current form, I can see Raheem Sterling making the difference but Chelsea also have an array of talent up front. When you have the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic, they will cause any defence troubles."
Can either Man City or Chelsea challenge Liverpool for the league this season?
"Liverpool are playing inspired football but the league is still wide open and far from done and dusted. With the form that Chelsea are currently in, there is no reason that Chelsea can’t win the league. It’s the same with Man City, they haven’t been on best form this season but they have the quality to turn it around and you can never rule them out.
"Liverpool are getting results week in week out but they have had their fair share of luck by avoiding too many long-term injuries. Yes, Liverpool are very much in the driving seat but it is too early to say that the title is theirs – City were 8 points behind Liverpool at one point last season and managed to turn it around. Coming up to the festive period, everyone knows that it is the toughest part of any season. If Man City or Chelsea can win a majority of their games during that period, they will both be in a really strong position to claw back the league from Liverpool’s hands."
Does Lampard need to win against Man City to prove his credentials for the Chelsea job?
"A win against Man City will be a massive confidence boost but Frank Lampard has nothing to prove; he doesn’t need a win to bolster his credentials – he has proved himself already. He’s got this team playing with so much passion, exactly the same way he used to play. Playing with that passion, together with their obvious natural ability, Chelsea are a really strong team. You can see that his players love playing for Frank and Chelsea are reaping the rewards at the moment."
What do you make of Man City’s start to the season so far?
"Injuries and individual errors have cost Man City so far this season but I don’t think that their start to the season is quite as bad as people have made out. Obviously, they have lost games that they wouldn’t want to have lost but the team has been rocked by injuries in defence which is tough for any team to deal with. But City are still in a good position to challenge in the Premier League and Champions League for the remainder of the season. Football’s a funny old game and sometimes things just don’t go the way you want them to go but no one can doubt their quality."
If City fail to win the Premier League or the Champions League this year, do you think there’s any possibility that Pep might lose his job?
"Even if City fail to win the Premier League or Champions League this season, they need to stick with Pep. I’m quite a loyal person, so I never quite understand why clubs are so quick to get rid of managers, especially after such recent success. Pep is one of the best managers in the world, if not the best, and the club need to keep him happy. Looking back to last season, a VAR decision against Tottenham is what stopped his team from progressing in the Champions League; if VAR doesn’t exist and that goal counts it could have been a completely different story last season.
"Pep has all the quality to deliver the Champions League for Manchester City, I just hope that he doesn’t walk away at the end of the season on his own accord. He’s evolved all aspects of the club, from the first team to the youth set-up. I think he will want to stick out the challenge for a couple more seasons and deliver the Champions League for City."
Who has been your player of the season for Manchester City so far?
"Raheem Sterling has been the stand-out player for Man City this season, he is the complete player and owes Pep credit for helping him transform his game. Raheem’s played so many games, he very rarely gets substituted, his end product is second to none, he assists and he works hard for the team. He’s growing into that player that everybody hoped he would do. No doubt, the talent was always there but Pep has taught him positioning. He gets in the box more - especially around the back post where he can cause danger. The relationship is working and it's showing in his performances."
Do you think Agüero could win the Golden Boot this season?
"Agüero has to be the favourite for the golden boot this year, even with tough competition from the likes of Aubameyang, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy. You just have to look at his stats, they speak for themselves, especially this season. Throughout his career, he has proven that he will always get you goals. He is a fantastic striker.
"When a team has players like Agüero or Sterling in the squad, it is invaluable to a team. A team will always go through periods of the game where they are struggling but players like Agüero and Sterling have the quality to produce a moment of brilliance and turn the whole game on its head."
Were Man City wrong to not replace Vincent Kompany in the summer and do they need to sign a defender in January?
"City could have looked to sign De Ligt in the summer; I think he would have helped them cope with the loss of Kompany, but he ended up at Juventus.
"I don’t think that Man City were necessarily wrong for not replacing Kompany in the summer, they have just been dealt a blow with the injury to Laporte at the beginning of the season – we probably wouldn’t even be talking about this if Laporte was fit at this point in the season.
"Man City should look at replacements in January but they need to locate the right player, they shouldn’t sign a defender for the sake of signing a defender. Ideally, you want a defender with Premier League experience. The problem is that any player joining Man City from another Premier League club will want to know that he is going to be starting week in week out, which won’t be a guarantee at a club like City. So, I don't feel like Man City will be able to sign another player from another Premier League team, unless he's happy to fight or sit on the bench."
There are rumours, or there were rumours in the press that Real Madrid are prepared to offer 70 million plus Gareth Bale for Raheem Sterling. Do you think this is enough for Manchester City to consider selling Sterling?
"There are rumours that Real Madrid have offered Gareth Bale and £70 million in exchange for Raheem Sterling but I don’t think City should even consider it. Perhaps, if Bale was the same age as Raheem Sterling then I would say OK, but for me, Gareth Bale is coming to the back end of his career now while Raheem has possibly another 10 years at the top. Regardless, £70 million in this day and age, wouldn’t be nearly enough to pry away a player of Sterling’s quality. Sterling’s performances over the last 4 years have been brilliant and it would require a much more attractive bid for City to consider any sort of deal."
Does Phil Foden need to leave Man City this summer in the search for game time?
"Phil Foden will have a big decision on his hands this summer; in any footballer’s head there comes a point where he recognises that he needs to be playing more games. It’s fair to think that if Phil Foden was playing regularly, he has enough quality to be in the England set up.
"There is a danger that a lack of game time could stagnate his career. Of course, he’s learning from some amazing players, he’s fought his way through, he’s taken his chances when given but is he at the stage where he needs to kick on to the next level and play consistently. You look at someone like Jadon Sancho, he took the chance of going abroad to get more game time and now he’s possibly up there with the top players, wingers, in the world.
"Youth has always been essential to the Man City set-up and they are screaming out for a player like Phil Foden to establish himself in the team; but Foden needs to decide whether it is best to wait around or move on elsewhere to establish himself."
Have you been surprised with how well Lampard has done at Chelsea and with their start to the season?
"I’m not surprised with how well Lampard has done at Chelsea, I said at the start of the season that I thought Chelsea would finish in the Top Four. I always knew that Chelsea had a good squad; there is a reason they chose to send players like Abraham, Mason Mount and Tomori on loan and not sell them. If they were never good enough then they wouldn’t have kept them, simple as that. These players bided their time until it worked for the club and the players alike. Chelsea have gone about it the right way, and they are now taking the league by storm. They have a DNA, they have a direction, and they play the way Frank loves to see them play. You can see that his aura has kind of rubbed off on his team, it’s like they all have a do or die attitude on the pitch which is great to see."
What is the main difference that Lampard has made to this Chelsea team?
"The main difference that Lampard has bought into Chelsea is that he has got his team playing with passion; that is the most important change that he has brought in to the club. It helps that Chelsea have players that have come through the academy who understand the Chelsea way and we are now seeing the benefits. When you have this attitude running through the veins of the team, it naturally rubs off on the other players. You can see the effects of this already with someone like Pulisic. He’s a great player but he has bought into that passion that Lampard expects, he fights for everything, and that makes just as much of a difference as his talent."
What would be considered as a successful season for Chelsea?
"With the way that Chelsea have started the season, the sky is the limit. I do believe that if they can have a strong festive period, there is no reason that they can’t catch up with Liverpool – it is still a long season ahead.
"Saying that, even if they end up finishing in the Top Four this season, that would still be exceptional. With the new manager coming in and the transfer ban, that would be more than most people would have expected at the start of the season."
Can Chelsea win the Champions League this year?
"Chelsea have the quality to win the Champions League this season. If they get the luck of the draw, they could be in with an outside chance of progressing far in the competition."
Which Chelsea player has impressed you the most this season?
"The two Chelsea players that have impressed me most this season have been Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. They’ve both come back from loan spells and grabbed the chance that Frank has given them with both hands. Growing up as a young kid, I was always taught that it's not all the time that you're going to have chances and if you get your chance you have to be ready to grab it. They've both done that tremendously well."
Can Tammy Abraham push Harry Kane for a starting spot in the summer for England?
"If Tammy continues in the form he is in, there is no reason that he can’t challenge Kane for a starting spot for England at Euro 2020. I think it's only right that a player is rewarded for their performances; if you're going into a big tournament and your striker has scored 25 goals that season, you're going to want to play him. It will be difficult for him to break in to the team ahead of Kane but he can definitely push him hard."
Is Mason Mount already one of the best midfielders in the Premier League?
"I think it is too early to call Mason Mount one of the best midfielders in the Premier League but he is certainly playing like one of the best midfielders in the league. He needs to show this level of consistency over a number of years and then we can categorise him in that bracket but he does need time to establish himself. Certainly, he's been outstanding this season and a delight to watch."
Having played with Frank Lampard, do you see a lot of similarities between him and Mason Mount?
"I don’t see too many similarities between Mason Mount and Frank Lampard in terms of playing styles; the main thing that they have in common is their ability to strike a ball. They both hit the ball incredibly cleanly. Otherwise, I think Mount is more of a dribbler than Frank, he is happy to take people on, whereas Frank’s main quality was being able to switch the ball – he was dream for the likes of myself, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben as we knew we just had to run and he would find us."
How important will Callum Hudson-Odoi be for the rest of the season?
"With Callum Hudson-Odoi now back after injury, it will be incredibly beneficial for the rest of the Chelsea’s season. The team are playing really well already, but the players know they have to up their game as there is more competition for places.
"Everyone knows Callum's potential and what he can do. With the array of attacking talent at his disposal, it will give Frank something to think about but that’s a good problem to have. Don’t forget, Chelsea still have Ruben Loftus-Cheek to come back and he is an absolutely brilliant asset to have in the pipeline. He showed his quality with England at the World Cup, and he will be expecting to settle back into that team. Frank will be fair; if you work hard and contribute then you'll get your just rewards."
How integral could these Chelsea youngsters be for England's hopes at Euro 2020?
"Chelsea’s English youngsters will be absolutely integral for England’s hopes at Euro 2020. They play without fear which is their main quality; you see them on the international stage and they aren’t fazed. The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world and if Southgate can get our top players playing the way they play in the Premier League, we've got a good chance of going all the way."
QPR are currently sitting a couple of points outside of the playoff spots. Do you think they have a chance at promotion this year?
"The way that QPR have been playing this season, they will fancy their chances for a promotion spot through the play-offs. Christmas is an important period of the season for them as it can be a turning point for better or for worse. If they were to have a good run and win four or five games, they’ll be right up in the mix and then it is just down to consistency.
"It's no secret that QPR have suffered defensively this season but they have enough attacking talent to compensate for their shortcomings at the back. Nahki Wells is crucial to their hopes this season; he’s already scored 8 goals this season and if he can keep up his form, he is going to be massive in their bid for promotion."
How impressed have you been with the job Mark Warburton has done at the club?
"Mark Warburton has done a tremendous job at the club; after a turbulent couple of years, he has come in and settled the ship. To even be considering a QPR promotion at this point shows you just how good of a job he has done."
Thierry Henry has just been appointed head coach of Montreal Impact, how important is that for the league to be attracting someone of that calibre as a manager?
"The appointment of Thierry Henry as head coach of Montreal Impact is vitally important for the MLS. He’s the type of man that can attract the big names and encourage them to make the move from the European leagues. This will then encourage people from around the globe to take note and watch the games. He is putting the MLS on the map and helping to make it even bigger."
How much have you seen the MLS improve over the years?
"The MLS has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, I would say that it is now on par with some European Leagues. I think in order to take the MLS to the next level though, they need to make the league more competitive. There is no real threat of relegation so teams lose interest quite quickly come the end of the season; you need the competition to build up the passion and desire."
You played abroad obviously at the end of your career, would you like to see more English talent try their hand abroad?
"The experience that a player can get from playing abroad is massive but each player has to approach the decision of playing abroad on an individual level. Playing abroad, you learn a different culture, a different style of play and it improves your understanding of the game. As a kid, I wanted to stay at Man City forever but football can be unpredictable, it’s then down to the individual to decide what it best for them."
How do you rate England’s chances at Euro 2020?
"With the way that England have been playing, they have a chance to go all the way at Euro 2020. There are some great teams in the competition but England will be ready to fight and will be difficult to beat. If they have the desire to match their flair and talent, they can overcome some of the ‘bigger countries’ and win the tournament.
"After their World Cup heroics, there will be an expectation but that will always be the case when you play for England; you just have to snuff it out, carry on with the way you have been playing, rally together and get the results. This group of players has a really strong chance at doing something special this summer."
How does this team compare to the ‘Golden generation’?
"This current England team are so exciting to watch but I think it is too early to compare them to the ‘Golden generation' - that was a team full of some of the best English talent that has ever played. This team has the potential to reach those heights but I think they still have some work to do before they get to that status."
Do you think Gareth Southgate could be tempted to walk away from England if a top club like Manchester United came in for him?
"It would be difficult for Gareth Southgate to walk away from the England job but after the Euro 2020, he might want to try his hand at club management again. Some managers want to be more hands-on and work with their players every day, and after the fantastic job that he has done with England, he won’t be short of options."
GENERAL PREMIER LEAGUE
What are your views on VAR this season?
"I don’t like VAR at all. For a system that is meant to take mistakes and bad decisions out of the game, it seems to be doing the opposite. This year, I’ve seen too many decisions that would have been the same outcome if the referee had made the decision; there are still too many mistakes. I also don’t think that fans, or even managers and players, actually understand how VAR is supposed to work. I certainly don’t… it looks like they just use it whenever they want or if they feel like they're going to make a call.
"VAR has also taken the soul out of the game, you don't know whether to celebrate, the fans don't know whether to cheer, it's ripped the atmosphere out of the game. The mistake that really stood out for me was in the Watford v Spurs game; Deulofeu dribbled into the box with the ball on his right-hand side and is tackled from the left-hand side and VAR didn’t award the penalty. In that situation, the only way to get the ball is by going through the man so it didn’t make logical sense.
"There is a place for VAR within the game but until the technology is in place, it should only be used for goal-line technology or for clear-cut offside decisions. At the moment, there are too many grey areas and it is causing more problems than solutions."
Is Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal now up?
"I think that it’s time for Emery to leave Arsenal, they’ve had a poor start to the season and I think something needs to change. My dad is going to kill me for saying that, but he’s in the jungle so I should be safe!
"Growing up, Arsenal were always such a big team, they were dominant and would always give you a tough game. They seem to have lost something of that steel and it makes me sad to see, if I’m being honest. As well as the manager, there are deep issues that need to be addressed. Arsenal have been crying out for a defender for years, someone in the Tony Adams, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, even Ledley King mould who can shore up their defence. Their defensive signings haven’t addressed any of their issues but you wonder anyway if this type of defender would want to join Arsenal at the moment – they’re not close to winning anything and are going to struggle to keep hold of their best players, like Aubameyang who will want Champions League football, let alone sign new quality players."
What do you make of Granit Xhaka’s reaction that resulted in him losing the captaincy at Arsenal?
"Granit Xhaka was wrong to react in the way that he did, especially to his own fans. All players have bad games and abuse is part of the game – if you’re getting abuse from your own fans then you are clearly doing something wrong and it is down to you to correct it as a player. Xhaka should have ignored it but sometimes your emotions do get the better of you. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be difficult for him to come back from this."
What do you make of Jose Mourinho as a manager?
"Having played under Jose Mourinho, I know what a great manager he is. I think he will be a good appointment for Tottenham. If the players buy in to the way that he wants to play, he could bring success. His quality doesn’t disappear overnight.
"Obviously, he’s had fallouts at some of the clubs that he has been at with players moaning about his methods, but he is a winner. At Man United, Mourinho took the blame but ultimately it was the players that let him down. So for me, I think he would always be a great appointment. I think if you get him and you get the players playing the way that he wants them to play, he will be successful. Everyone's seen what he's achieved as well and I don't think that quality just disappears."
What is going wrong at Manchester United at the moment?
"Man United are really suffering for confidence at the moment and if they don’t get out of this rut soon it could be a very disappointing season. Man United have a squad of international players though, they need to come together and pull themselves up the table."
We’ve seen some brilliant teams in the Premier League over the years, where do you think this Liverpool team rank amongst the likes of the great Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City teams in years gone by?
"This Liverpool team is right up there with the best Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Man City teams of the past. A lot of this is a result of Virgil Van Dijk and the stability he has brought to the defence but it is also down to the way that Klopp has them playing, the winning mentality is so impressive. They may not always play well, but they’re winning and they are scoring goals late in games, the same way that the great Manchester United teams used to do under Ferguson. That is a sign of the greatest teams."
I'M A CELEB
How do you fancy Ian’s chances in the jungle this year?
"I think Ian’s chances in the jungle are as good as anyone’s. The good thing about Ian is that everything you will see on TV is genuine. He's a warm person, he's funny, people like him and his reactions, all the screaming or crying that you might see, that is actually him – none of that is fake!"
What part of the jungle experience do you think Ian will struggle with most?
"Ian will be alright with the whole experience in the jungle, the only thing that he will struggle with is the spiders. He can’t stand them."
Who do you think Ian will get on with best in the jungle?
"I have no doubt that Ian will be very popular in the camp. Ian gets along with anybody and everybody but I expect him to get on best with Kate Galloway. They’re in the same industry which puts them on the same page from the start and out of everyone in the camp, I expect them to get on really well."BET NOW