Pat Nevin Exclusive

Pat Nevin

Pat Nevin: Brendan Rodgers would struggle to turn down Chelsea, John Lundstram cost Rangers the title with Old Firm red and Pochettino doesn’t seem ‘perfectly content’ 

Speaking to primeslots.co.uk, ex-Chelsea, Everton and Scotland star Pat Nevin breaks down Mauricio Pochettino’s prospects for next season after an improved finish. 

He also gave his take on Toffees’ prospect Jarrad Branthwaite, and Liverpool’s surprise link with Newcastle hotshot Anthony Gordon. 

Q: Pochettino said it wouldn’t be the end of the world to be sacked, a strange comment?

"It did, but there is no certainty at the club at the end of the day. I suppose he is also covering himself to some degree, but it also suggests he is not 100% perfectly content with the way everything has gone for him.

"My guess would be, and it is just speculation, that he has a limited amount of control or input over players that are coming in or going out. If you're trying to build a team and it is delivered to you, you would have to ask if you are happy with that?

"I tend to think most managers are not, when things go wrong they tend to know the problem and want to solve it themselves. When they don't have that, it can lead to tension.

"But there is a growing trend in football, and we will see this with Arne Slot when he comes in at Liverpool, where certain clubs employ managers and not coaches. That is all you are there to do, which is just coach the players.

"I've continually said that this Chelsea project will take two years to find out whether or not this is going to work. At the moment, this is the closest it has looked like it is going to work."

Q: Reece James coming back, Chelsea’s best player when fit? Best RB in the world?

"At his very best, when he was fully fit, no one could get past him. He was so comfortable on the ball, his crossing was as good as anyone and he was a machine. Now, it has been a long time since he was a machine and the questions are asked if he is ever going to be the same again?

"If he is and can get back to what he was before, then it is the biggest signing Chelsea will make this decade, besides Cole Palmer. It is that big, because he is that important.

"Before he was injured, Chelsea played a 3-4-3 and the wing-backs were the most important players in the team and they created so much. But Chelsea's first-choice wing backs have not been there for the past 18 months.

"Reece coming back is great, but is he as fit and as dynamic as he was before the injuries and have they slowed him down? If the answer is no, then he can be back to his best."

Q: In a hypothetical world where he stays fit, could he have a better career than Trent?

"It's very difficult to say, but there was a period when I felt as though Reece was the best in the world. Trent, for me, was originally well ahead and then I felt like Reece had caught up with him and snuck ahead.

"In terms of defensive contributions, as well as attacking output, there isn't much of an argument. But the injuries have changed that and Reece has fallen slightly behind, even though Trent has had his struggles as well.

"However, from an outsider's point of view, both of these right-backs can walk into midfield and play there. People don't see Reece doing that very often, but he is fabulous at that and is extremely comfortable there.

"It doesn't have to be either or for England anymore, you could conceivably play them both in the same team. If both were fully fit, you could alternate them both between right-back and midfield and that would be great for England.

"Reece can also play as a right-sided centre back, but you are then taking away his driving forward contributions. His crossing and creativity are so important that you just don't want to do that, you'd rather he was giving you everything as opposed to some of his attributes.

"It all depends on his recovery and how much he can do. If his injuries are limiting, then maybe that is the position for him and that is the solution for Chelsea. He is clever enough, sharp enough and has all that you need to play as a centre-back.

"He needs time, a few games at the end of the season, a good pre-season under his belt and then let's see what he can do. It's a shame the Euros are so close, because it is probably too close.

"England are really strong in that position and they have Trent as well as Kyle Walker. If he was to be stuck into the squad, then I wouldn't be shocked. I just think it is a long shot."

Q: If Chelsea can escape FFP punishment, who do you want them to sign?

"In reality, the one thing Chelsea needed at the start of the season was creativity and they got that with Cole Palmer. Thiago Silva is leaving and they have to assess what the centre-back positions look like.

"They have shipped a lot of goals this season, and that is something that has to be considered. Jackson has shown more and more as the season has gone on, there's a maturity growing because he is not a natural finisher who is going to get you 35 goals a season.

"If I was playing behind Jackson now, I would love it. He runs and he sprints and he moves to create space, with Cole Palmer in behind him you can see there is a development and a player there starting to emerge.

"Palmer is a genius passer and Jackson is now starting to learn that if he just makes those sorts of runs, then there is a strong chance the ball will arrive.

"There is a growing level of football intelligence to Jackson, and you can see Palmer has the confidence and the ability to find anyone who makes a run when he has the ball at his feet. Jackson is moving and getting into those right areas.

"However, Chelsea need another number 9 because they have just one and that is not enough for the elite level of the Premier League."

Q: How would you describe John Lundstrum’s tackle that cost Rangers a shot at the Premiership title?

"That tackle was not acceptable. I was at the game on commentary and I initially thought he got the ball because I was unsighted with how the ball spun off, but he lunged into the tackle and you always take a massive chance when you do that.

"As soon as I saw the first replay, I knew he was off and that was the only decision. The Old Firm is a rough and tumble game, but in no football game on this planet is that not a red card.

"Even when I was playing, that would still have been a red card. I'm not saying he meant it, because I don't think he did, I think he committed to trying to win the ball and turning it over for an attack. When your studs are lifted, at that pace and you are reckless, it ticks every single box for a red card.

"It's a terrible decision, made in the heat of the moment after getting back into the game, but I understand because I have made bad decisions and mistakes in big games like that.

"In that moment, even though I sit here now and it is not arithmetically over, they lost the league because of that one moment."

Q: Brendan Rodgers is among the bookies’ candidates to replace Pochettino, should he go. Would he be a good fit?

"Brendan does love Celtic, they are his team and he has had great success there. He was not welcomed back there fabulously because when he left to go to Leicester, they felt he left the club in the lurch.

"So he's been begrudgingly accepted back by quite a large group. I don't think Brendan would walk out easily, if any old Premier League club came calling I don't think he would walk out.

"However, this is Chelsea and there may not be a better job for him out there. In his mind, there is probably not a bigger job out there for him. I would imagine that when he started his coaching career at Chelsea, and he closed his eyes and imagined the future, reaching the top job at Stamford Bridge would be the pinnacle of his career.

"I actually feel sorry for Brendan, even though he won't get much sympathy, trust me, but that is a hell of a tough call if it comes in. Turning down Premier League side Chelsea, and to work with an incredible group of young players.

"I wouldn't get rid of Pochettino, full stop. I would not get rid of him, it wouldn't even be a discussion because I don't think he has done an awful lot wrong and I think he has managed to get a team playing in a style that is starting to become more evident.

"You can see he has improved a couple of the players there individually as well, so I think it would be grotesquely unfair for him to get sacked. I personally don't think Chelsea's struggles or their league position can be aimed at Poch at all.

"He absolutely deserves next season."

Q: Could Chelsea replace Thiago Silva with Branthwaite?

"I've been watching and writing about him this season, and Everton fans will know this as well, you have seen absolutely nothing yet.

"This is a 21-year-old kid who is playing at the top level who looks more assured every single game. He can come out with the ball, he can spray passes, he has got real confidence. How many kids of his age have come through and looked as good at this age?

"He will make mistakes, because he is a confident young centre-half, but he isn't afraid to make them and he has the temperament to learn from them.

"If I was looking for a young centre-back at an elite club in Europe, he would be top of my list. He absolutely ticks every single box for Chelsea; they buy young players for big money, he's tall, he dominates physically and is good in the air.

"He absolutely will not be cheap, even though Everton need to sell this summer, because Chelsea are not going to be the only club looking at him in the summer. He's going to cost a fortune, but I personally hope he stays at Everton because I think they badly need him.

"But there are very few clubs in world football that would not want to buy Jarrad Branthwaite, he could be that good."

Q: Anthony Gordon linked to Liverpool for £100m, does he have what it takes to replace Mohamed Salah?

"I don't think Evertonians have forgiven him for what happened at the end of his career there yet! Anthony is quite special, he breaks lines all the time and he reminds me of Jack Grealish before he went to Manchester City from Aston Villa.

"This rumour doesn't surprise me, nor do I think it should be dismissed. He has phenomenal skills, and he has the ability to beat players. Too often, wingers will bring the ball up the pitch, before turning back and laying off a simple pass and removing the danger.

"You don't pay 100 million quid for a winger to stop and turn back, you pay that money for someone that can break lines, drag people across and create.

"These players are a rarity in modern football and that is who the money is being spent on. Mbappe is the most obvious one, but teams are desperate for players that can do that in their side.

"How long has Mo Salah got left at Liverpool, and is he still as dynamic as he once was back in the day? He's still brilliant, but he won't last forever and Liverpool need to think about the future.

"Anthony will go by people, he will create and he will also score. It would not shock me at all, because I think he is that good." 

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