Pat Nevin: “Ronaldo would be even more of a poor fit than Lukaku”

As transfer deals are being made and the new season edges closer, BonusCodeBets caught up with ex-Chelsea and Everton ace Pat Nevin. The Scotsman shared his thoughts on Chelsea, transfers, Everton, The Scottish Premiership, Rangers, Celtic and Scotland missing out on the World Cup. 

What are your predictions for the upcoming season as a former Chelsea player?

I think Chelsea will finish between 3rd and 6th. It might sound negative but Liverpool and Man City did phenomenal business and did it so far ahead. There is no embarrassment in finishing behind them though as they are two of the greatest teams ever in Premier League history.  It depends on whether good enough centre-backs come in, if Thiago Silva can stay fit and play as many games as possible that will definitely help. If Chelsea could get Declan Rice, it would make a massive difference. Chelsea also need someone to score goals but not someone like Lukaku. I would have liked Lewandowski or Haaland but they’ve gone elsewhere.

Do you think Ronaldo would make a difference?

I think Ronaldo would be even more of a poor fit than Lukaku was for Chelsea. When Lukaku signed last season, people thought he would be the missing link but I thought by signing him, Thomas Tuchel was throwing his style of play out the window, if indeed it was Thomas who signed him! It didn’t make sense to me. While Ronaldo scores a lot of goals, off the ball you are almost playing with ten men which you cannot do in the Premier League and be competitive. Some Chelsea fans may love it, but there have been some cases over the years around Chelsea which have made them look like a circus. If they are trying to catch Man City, they can’t be a circus. If he is going to join, he has to be told he won’t play every game and may only play a 45 minutes but he has to work for the team. If he does, he could then be a brilliant signing for Chelsea.

What are your thoughts on Chelsea signing Sterling and Koulibaly?

Chelsea certainly needed a couple of CB’s and they still need another one at least other than Koulibaly. There are talks of Kounde but to lose the players that they have already lost is worrying. Christiansen wasn’t as big of a loss as Rudiger though who was a great player for Chelsea. It may take time for Koulibaly to adapt from Italy though, as he’ll have to be on his game all the time here.

There are so few easy games in the EPL. I expect Koulibaly will do well, particularly if they keep Thiago Silva fit, he is incredible. I think he’s my favorite defender I have ever seen in the Premier League of all time. He is a beautiful footballer. Sterling is an interesting one. It’s exciting if you look at his numbers- he scores goals and creates goals. You have to remember though that he won’t get the chances at Chelsea that he got at Man City. At Man City, the chances were made for him. Chelsea don’t get to the byline like Man City do and Lukaku was one who massively suffered from that weakness at Chelsea. I think Raheem will do well and he’ll score some goals but he’ll be part of a group in a similar position as Pulisic, Ziyech, Mount, Hudson Odoi and Werner. Chelsea fans should not expect similar numbers to what he was getting at Man City, but he is a good addition.

Chelsea suffered a 4-0 defeat to Arsenal in pre-season. Thoughts on Tuchel not having much hope for Chelsea in his press conference after?

Is Tuchel talking to the fans, the board; asking for more players, or was he talking to the players? I think it was the players. He also showed this by calling his players weak. Jose Mourinho would always say about press conferences that first, I talk to my players, second I talk to my players, third I talk to my players. They are the only people who can help Tuchel. He’s making the point to them because he does not want his players cruising through- the expectation is higher. He wants high energy even in the pre-season. That’s why Lukaku struggled at Chelsea last season, because he can’t play with that high energy. I’d be worried because Spurs and Arsenal have improved and maybe it’s the wake-up call Chelsea needed because they have been poor in pre-season. It is pre-season though, so keep it in perspective.

Do you think a shaky start in pre-season will make this season even harder to close the gap?

In my career, we sometimes played a shocking pre-season and had a great season after that. If you look at some of those games closely,  for example Chelsea did not put out a strong team against Arsenal. The team that starts on the first day will look very different. Rest will be important for the likes of Jorginho and Kante, it will be key so they don’t tire out by December. If Chillwell and James stay fit, honestly all bets are off. They will create as many chances if not more than the Liverpool full-backs. Not having James and Chillwell last season and their missing quality was damaging. Having them, with Sterling, will be the most important thing for Chelsea. If they start, then Chelsea will start the season well.

Chelsea have their first game against Everton soon. How do you see that game going?

Both Chelsea and Everton have had bad 4-0 defeats in pre-season. I think Chelsea are a long way ahead though, making them the favorites. The caveat to that though is Everton have  beaten Chelsea so many times from out of nowhere recently. That’s going to be a factor.

Goodison will be bouncing and while that kept Everton up last season, it can’t last forever. If Chelsea are in control by half-time, I think they will win the game because the Everton fans might start to get on the back of the club.

Who do you think will win the Premier League?

Man City. They were brilliant last season and then they added Haaland. Liverpool are brilliant and their signings have been fantastic. They will be happy with Nunez as the Mane replacement. The decision-making has been amazing but Man City will win it. If Chelsea or Liverpool had signed Haaland they would have won the league. He’s a special player and whoever has him would be favourites to win the league so I’ll go with City.

 

Who would you like to see Everton sign this year?

 I think Everton should use the loan market. They should ask Frank to speak to some of his old colleagues at Chelsea and see if there are any young players left to bring in. They should try to sign Billy Gilmour and Connor Gallagher if they are available. They would make a massive difference to Everton, but they also need a goalscorer. They have DCL but they can’t depend on him. Richarlison is a gigantic miss, a huge miss for them.

I reckon Everton needs to sign 5 quality players. As you can probably tell, I’m quite concerned as lots of Everton fans are. They should use the loan market because you can get some really good players in the market. Frank also needs funds and backing for his squad. All the top players won’t want to go to Everton though as they don’t want to go to a team near the bottom of the league last season.

Everton lost 4-0 in pre-season. Lampard has already suggested he is preparing for another relegation battle. Is he making his excuses too early?

I think it sounds like realism from Lampard, not excuses. I remember a few years ago when David Moyes was at Sunderland and he said a very similar thing and everyone said he was making excuses. I said I liked his honesty and how realistic he was. Hearing a manager say that, you think he’s telling the truth. To some degree yes he is, but in fact he’s saying it to the board. He’s saying; this is dangerous territory now, the current group was not good enough and they’ve lost a couple of players from that. Last season, the Everton fans got them over the line without doubt and you can’t do that every single week. There’s some hard work to be done in the transfer window and that’s what that comment from Frank Lampard was about. He’s saying; we need to get on with it, now!

Do you think Everton are in danger of starting the season without Richarlison?

You don’t go out there looking for another Richarlison because you won’t find anyone else as skilful and versatile as him. I’m worried about that along with every Everton fan. He was a creator as well as a goalscorer. They probably won’t find that but they need to find a good fit. I think they should look at Broja after his good season at Southampton last year. He’s a natural goal scorer. He may not be a direct replacement for Richarlison as not everything will go through him and he’s not as skilful. They’ll therefore need to bring in someone creative behind Broja as well. As we get closer to the start of the season, I am getting more worried but Broja would be a decent signing. I think with the money spent as well by others, Everton are slightly behind other clubs. Players would also rather go to clubs higher up the league than Everton were last season, which is a problem.

 

There have been a lot of success stories in the SPFL in the last few years. Do you think it’s time that fans started to put more respect on the Scottish game?

Fans can give the Scottish game more respect if they like, I don’t think the Scottish clubs could care less whether fans give it the respect or not! The clubs in Scotland are now delighted that they are getting value for the players they are selling down South. There was a long period where they weren’t getting the value and maybe there were not good enough players playing for Scotland at the time, but that’s not the case now. Certainly, I remember doing commentaries when Virgil Van Dijk was playing for Celtic and I was surprised that it took so long for people to notice how good he was. That started a bit of an avalanche, from Kieran Tierney, to John McGinn at Aston Villa who’s been brilliant. Aribo and Calvin Ramsey have left recently to go to Southampton and Liverpool. I’d look out for all of these players and also Aaron Hickey, who’s just gone to Brentford. He is absolutely top quality and is easily good enough for the Premier League although he came via Serie A.

So, if they don’t want to look at the Scottish league and realize how good it is, then they just have to look at their own league and realize how many of them came from Scotland. There’s one more player in the Scottish league who I’m desperate not to come to England and that is Kyogo Furushashi of Celtic. If he was playing in the top level in England, he would score a lot of goals and he may do one day. I hope though that he stays for a little bit longer in Scotland however.

How do you think Celtic and Rangers would get on in the Premier League?

It’s a really simple equation, if Celtic and Rangers were in the Premier League, they would get the right resources and the TV money. They would therefore be massively competitive. Just now with the players and the finances that they have, it’s a bit of an unfair situation because they only have a fraction of the money that the Premier League clubs get.

Even so, right now with the squads that have been built, I don’t think either Celtic or Rangers would get top six but I don’t think anyone below that would be comfortable playing them. GVB and Steven Gerrard before him have done great jobs at Rangers. I mean, you don’t get to a Europa League final by being rubbish. Remember, West Ham didn’t manage to get to the final. The Celtic manager has also done an extraordinary job. They’ve both vastly improved in the last 1-2 years, I reckon therefore that they wouldn’t be relegation candidates even with the teams that they have now, and that’s saying something considering the budget that they have. These are huge clubs and give them an opportunity in a bigger league which I hope they never get personally, they would be massive.

Rangers have just lost Calvin Bassey and also Joe Aribo, after losing these two key players can Rangers still challenge for the title?

The model for all clubs in Scotland, including Celtic and Rangers is you have to buy, sell at a profit then use that money wisely. Nathan Patterson to Everton for £12M, Calvin Bassey for £22M to Ajax and Aribo for £10M to Southampton, as long as that money is used well and they can replace those players, they will just go again. That’s how it works.

It will be hard for Rangers with the players they’ve lost. If Morelos was fit, they would have won that Europa League final so they are a decent side. That was using those players that they have bought and now sold at a profit. They will buy again and if they carry on using the money well, it sounds easy but it isn’t. If Rangers don’t replace Bassey and Aribo, Celtic will win the title full stop. I suspect they will replace them though and it really does depend on who those new players are and how quickly they fit into the team, into the system and how well they do it.

Is Aribo to Southampton a good fit for him?

Now, Aribo to Southampton, it’s a good move for him and he’ll do okay. He’s of Premier League standard and he will do well. Southampton got Van Dijk and sold him on and you feel Aribo can improve as a player at Southampton. The one they probably wanted though was Bassey who is real quality. While he cost an extra £12M, he’s a real class act. I don’t think he’ll be at Ajax for too long in fact, he’ll make another step up. Between the two players, if Southampton had got Bassey, I wouldn’t be saying he’ll do okay, I’d be saying he would do brilliantly.

Rangers just came up short last season. Would Steven Gerrard have been able to win them the title?

I don’t think Gerrard would have taken them all the way to be honest. A lot of people are talking about it in Scotland and most Rangers fans say no. I think the reason for this is because Gerrard left them in the middle of the season. His replacement GVB has however been exceptional.

I think at that point in time Celtic were unstoppable. Celtic were incredible from early in the season. The style, the attitude, the consistency and the improvement was brilliant from Celtic all the way through the season. I actually think this is just the start for Celtic, they are a lovely team to watch. They are a very very good team and entertaining. They play in the Celtic style and if they score one or two, they always want to get another. They don’t look back. They don’t want to be defensive. I feel Celtic will win the league again because of the manager.

Who do you think will finish higher this year between Celtic and Rangers?

As it stands, Celtic will finish higher. But in the next few weeks, a lot can happen and it won’t stand this way. You only get a true reflection of how a team looks when the transfer window shuts. I expect it to be very tight whatever happens. The SPFL is not a poor league, other than those two clubs, but the gap is extraordinary. Celtic have been fantastic and will improve but Jota has been signed and he is a proven player. Rangers though were within a whisker of being the Europa League champions and had a cracker of a season, so it is not straightforward.

Unfortunately, Scotland did miss out on world cup qualification. How do you think the neighbouring countries will get on?

I was at all the games and it’s a shame Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup, but Ukraine were better. That group in Qatar with England, Wales, Iran and USA is an incredible group and it will be interesting to see who qualifies. It will be a national disaster if England don’t get out of the group. I think it’s a minimum requirement for England to get further all the way to the last four, and they are definitely good enough.

I’m also a big fan of the England women’s team and I still think they are the favourites to win their tournament. I don’t think the England men’s team have that same strength though and they are still slightly behind other teams at the world cup, but they have a decent chance.

I would be quietly confident if I was English. It’s tougher for Wales though. They can definitely get past the USA and Iran though. Iran is a lot better than people realize. The USA don’t seem to have it together though despite the good young players that they have. If the Welsh can use their team spirit, with the way they’ve used it in the past, they could get out of the group which I believe will be a success in itself. It will not surprise me if both Wales and England, therefore, get through. 

 


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