Shaun Wright Phillips on Haaland, Tuchel Being Sacked, and What the Rest of the Premier League Has in Store

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There's been plenty of Premier League drama to talk about in the past few weeks, with Erling Haaland scoring goals for fun and Tuchel getting the sack, to the shock of many. We sat down with Shaun Wright Phillips to pick his brain and get his opinion on all this and more.

 

Haaland and Manchester City This Season

  • 1. How has Erling Haaland changed City this season, and how good do you think he could become in this City team?

I think the way he's changed Manchester City can be seen in the results. They are very telling in terms of what he's done himself – not only the goals, but where he's scored from. All of his goals have mainly been in the box, or in between the penalty spot and the goal line, which was a crucial part to what Manchester City were missing last season.

If you go back to the game against Crystal Palace last year, where Manchester City lost having had a man sent off, they still created a lot of chances that day. Take a look at the game this season, they had the same number of chances but ended up winning 4-2. That shows you what Haaland has been bought for and what he's capable of in this team.

I still think they haven't clicked fully yet with him in the side, so it's almost scary to think how good he and Manchester City can really be. Considering he's got 12 goals in six games already – with 10 of those in the Premier League – if he keeps up at that rate, then there are a lot of records in front of him that he'll be looking to break.

  • 2. As a former attacking player, does it give you greater confidence to know that there is such a clinical striker ahead of you?

It feels different with Haaland compared to when Aguero was at the club, as all of Haaland's work is done within the box and the width of the goal posts.

As a winger or a midfielder who finds themselves in those wide positions, if they cross the ball, they know there will be someone busting a gut to get on the end of those deliveries. More often than not, at the moment, those seem to end up in the back of the net, so you would expect balls to keep coming in those areas.

  • 3. How good can Haaland be and what will his Premier League legacy be? Do you expect him to stay at City for his whole career, or is the club just a stepping stone?

Obviously, he's just joined the club so we don't know how he might feel in the future, but I would be happy if he stayed at Manchester City for the rest of his career.

As for his legacy, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I wouldn't say Premier League records are easy to break because Alan Shearer worked hard for his [most goals scored in Premier League history], even playing with a few injuries sustained during that time.

If he hadn’t been injured, then I think that record would be even higher, which shows how tough it is to achieve a feat like this in the first place. You need a clean run, in a way, and presently, Harry Kane is the one who looks like he could get there; he's still got a way to go, however.

He's been doing what he's been doing for a long time in the Premier League, so that record will be tough to beat. But I think if Haaland keeps scoring goals and stays fit, then I think he has a great chance of doing just that.

 

Man City’s Champions League Dream

  • 4. City obviously try and win every trophy they can, but the Champions League has until now eluded them. Are they now better equipped to win it than ever before?

I would say they are better equipped with Haaland, but at the same time, I wouldn't say they haven't been in the past.

In that Real Madrid game last season, they had a lot of chances to put the game to bed and they just didn't have that luck. Courtois made a great save from Grealish in the second leg before Real Madrid turned it around, so there were chances for Manchester City to win that tie.

Obviously, Haaland has been brought in to score those goals in the big moments, and probably to try and help them cross that line and win the Champions League.

  • 5. Is there a mental block with the Champions League?

I could have possibly agreed with that if they hadn't got to semi-finals and a final consistently over the past few years. Manchester City have done well in the Champions League over the seasons, so I don't think it is a mental block.

Like I've said before, Manchester City had those chances to kill the game off. It didn't happen for them on that occasion, but they played very well over those two games. I know they gave up a lot of chances and the match took a turn at the end, but over the two legs, City were the better team.

I don't think there is a mental block; I think the difference this year is Haaland. As soon as that ball goes into the box, you know he'll be there to try and get on the end of it. And if he succeeds, more often than not, the ball will end up in the net.

That could be the difference that wins the Champions League, but they won't be affected by things that have happened in the past.

 

Addressing the Haaland Legacy

  • 6. Like Erling, you grew up with a professional player as a father. How much did having a dad who had done what you wanted to help your development and career?

It's a strange experience, and I think Haaland might be in the same position as I was because he’s a striker and his dad was a central midfielder. I was a winger and my dad was a striker – obviously both play different roles on a football pitch.

But in respects of the mental side of the game in terms of injuries and any challenges ahead, then I think it's a massive help. To have somebody else in the family who has played and has dealt with those setbacks is something you can lean on, especially if you're not dealing with it well yourself. It keeps you on the right track mentally knowing you have that support.

Positionally wise, they can advise you on certain things, but it's very different. When I was playing right-wing, my dad would advise me on how to help the striker, which was perfect to that aspect of my game.

I would know where the striker would want the ball put, and for Haaland, it would be the same in terms of knowing where a midfielder wants the striker to be. But it's tough to fully grasp the roles because they're different, so it could be seen as almost manager-esque since they haven't played that role.

So, it's just more advice coming from what they experienced whilst they were playing, and what they wanted from different positions in a team.

  • 7. Is there added pressure on players when they are related to former professionals?

Personally, I think it comes from the outside more than anything else. If a player feels that pressure, then it's the pressure he's putting on himself to be as good as their parent or whatever the case might be.

I was brought up in a way to let everyone else do the talking and just focus on my own football. At the end of the day, I was creating my own path, different to my dad's or even my brother's. Haaland will be doing the exact same thing.

 

Looking Into the Manchester City Squad

  • 8. Is this current squad the best Manchester City side that Pep Guardiola has managed?

I wouldn't necessarily say it's better, but I would say it's different and stronger in certain areas. You only need to look back at some of the teams Pep Guardiola has had and the way they stormed the Premier League at times.

Now we've come to this team who play in a similar way, but with that focal point in the number nine position. They've never had anyone in this position who plays exactly like this, so you can see they've had to change the way they've played a little in looking for that striker in behind.

In a way, it can be seen as more direct; not completely, though, because City still have a lot of control in games. But, at times, they can see those more direct passes, and having that option there just gives the side an added weapon.

Time will tell how far this team can go throughout the season.

  • 9. Looking ahead to January/next summer, with Bernardo Silva potentially leaving, where do you think Manchester City can improve their team and what player would you suggest?

That talk about Bernardo Silva has been there for a few months now, so at some point, you’re bound to think it's going to happen.

If we're speaking hypothetically, if Bernardo does leave, then I would love to see Jude Bellingham in a Manchester City shirt. It would be a hard ask, because I think a lot of clubs will be after him next summer. However, that is one person who does excite me a lot.

  • 10. Would these group games against Dortmund be a potential audition for Bellingham?

I don't think they need an audition from him, to be honest. A lot of players around the world love watching the Premier League because it's the most exciting one in the world.

Players will see what Manchester City have done, and they will know how they play and what they could potentially walk into. It's the same for teams as well. Dortmund will know they'll have a lack of possession and will be looking to play on the break a lot of the time.

It'll be interesting to see how City deal with that counterattack, and, of course, there will be two former Borussia Dortmund players coming up against their former club.

But in terms of Bellingham, I don’t think he needs to prove anything either, because we've already seen how good of a player he has become. Like I said, there will be a lot of interest in him next summer – but hopefully, he'll end up in a Manchester City shirt.

 

Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel

  • 11. Were Chelsea right to sack Thomas Tuchel?

No – and it's a hard no from my end, if I'm being honest. Once you set out and give someone £280 million to spend, then you've shown the fans, the club, and the world that you're backing this manager.

So, Tuchel being sacked caught me by surprise, as in 15 months he's brought back three of the most difficult trophies to win. To let somebody go on the back of what he's done in such a short space of time is strange.

I can feel what the Chelsea fans must be feeling – maybe not as strongly, but I can certainly understand the underlying confusion and disappointment. It was a shock, and I completely don't understand the reasons for it. However, it does make you wonder whether we’ve been given the full picture of what went on behind the scenes.

  • 12. Do you think there was something going on in the background that we don't know about?

I think it definitely raises questions; you can't give somebody over £200 million of your money to spend when you don't want that person there. I think if they actually wanted to sack Thomas Tuchel, then they should have done it before the season started. The next manager would then get more time to come in, build his squad, and get to know his players.

Now Graham Potter has been brought in, and he’ll have much less time to change the way Chelsea play to the way he wants them to. Hopefully, though, it will all work out for him.

 

The Graham Potter Effect

  • 13. Will Graham Potter succeed at Stamford Bridge? Do you have any concerns over his appointment, and where do you think Chelsea will finish this season under his guidance?

I have no concerns whatsoever about Graham Potter. He might not have a history of winning trophies or dealing with big players and big egos, but personally I believe he is the perfect person to take over.

What he's done at Brighton in the past three years is nothing short of astonishing. This is in no way meant as any disrespect to Brighton or any of their players, but when the club came into the Premier League, people expected them to go down.

Year after year they've got better, and Graham Potter took them a step further to where you might say they could challenge a place in the top seven and get into Europe. He's shown what he can do with a smaller budget, so who knows what he can do with a bigger one?

For me, if the players buy into what he wants to do and get on board with his style of play, then the results are going to come streaming in. I think a good season for Chelsea and Graham Potter would be to just keep winning as many games as possible and see where it takes them.

One thing I know is Chelsea fans like to be entertained, as all fans do. Therefore, the team should focus on making the game exciting, maintaining control, and ultimately winning, because they have the players to do that.It's just not currently like what it used to be – players aren't taking opposition players on, but they always defended well and were compact.

When Chelsea parked the bus, it wasn't the best to watch. Nevertheless, it got them results – it’s all about finding that consistent run of form. I think Graham Potter will bring that back because he's managed to do it at Brighton. He very rarely lost by his team being outplayed, and that was by anyone in the league.

That’s the amazing part to me, so Chelsea should be excited by his appointment. It’s still early enough in the season for them to finish in a good position, which would be top four.

  • 14. Tuchel didn’t seem to rate Pulisic or Ziyech. Will any players benefit from Potter replacing him?

I think Potter presents a fresh opportunity for all of those players. He’s a new manager so he doesn't know what his best line-up will be yet, and he's only got a short time to figure that out.

Although he’s going to be learning on the job, once he knows his team then things will fall into place. We’ve already seen what he's done with the likes of Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister. He likes those attacking players in those positions, so I think a lot of those attacking players at Chelsea will thrive.

Brighton created a lot of chances under Graham Potter, so if you're a Chelsea attacker, you're thinking that a lot of opportunities could potentially come your way.

  • 15. What changes do you think Potter will make to Chelsea's style, formation and line-up?

I don't think he'll change the formation too much, as it's suited in a way – or closely enough – to how he set up his Brighton teams. There's three at the back or the flexibility to play a back four; he might go for four players across the middle.

So, I think it'll be similar to the 3-4-3 that they were playing under Thomas Tuchel, but with slight tweaks in the style of play. I believe he'll change the front line. Tuchel liked to play with two number 10s behind the striker, whoever it might have been.

Therefore, he might play them as a normal 3-4-3 and having them as wingers or inside forwards, which will benefit the likes of Sterling, Pulisic, and Ziyech. However, deciding to play Mason Mount, Kante, Kovacic, or Jorginho might cause a problem in the midfield.

Those decisions might be difficult for him to make at times, but I think he'll change a lot in terms of how the team attack in a more fluid way.

  • 16. Chelsea have given him a five-year contract - do you expect him to be there for that long?

I mentioned in an interview last week that I don't think any other manager would take that job without a five-year deal. That's just based on the fact that they tend to kick people to the curb very early, if you look at the history of certain managers.

The fact they've given him a five-year deal could suggest what Arsenal have done, what Manchester City have done, and what Liverpool have done. They've given those managers the time to build the foundation they want and build successful clubs for the next ten years, rather than during those first two.

But hopefully this means that Chelsea are putting Graham Potter in place to build something, and it looks as if he'll get the time to do just that.

 

Arsenal's Squad and Title Hopes

  • 17. What are your top four predictions after six games, and why? Are you impressed by Arsenal?

I was already impressed by Arsenal last year; this season, they're just topping it off with consistent performances.

Last season, when they were down in the bottom half, they had a lot of criticism come their way – but they stuck to their guns, with Arteta playing the football he knows and how he wants them to play.

In the end, people were gutted because they didn't make the Champions League, but what they achieved last year to get into that position was fantastic.

Now they've built on that with the signings they've made, with the likes of Jesus and Zinchenko coming in, as well as Viera, who's coming back to fitness. These are massive additions,  and it's given them depth in areas that they haven't had before, especially across the front line.

They'll have a lot of games coming up which are back-to-back, followed by the World Cup, after which they have to get straight back into it and deal with any injuries. This is going to be very important to them when it comes to the end of the season, and if they can keep that consistency up, that will be a spot in the top four gone.

Then it comes down to Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur fighting for that last spot. I don't see Liverpool dropping out of there, in all honesty – once they get up and running and have all their players fit, then they'll get back to the way we're used to seeing.

I still think they'll be hard to stop, though of course, Manchester City are playing the way they're playing. With that added striker, I can't see any other spaces becoming available.

  • 18. City allowed Jesus and Zinchenko to both leave to join Arsenal this summer. Were you disappointed to see them go, and how do you think they’ve settled in under Arteta?

I was disappointed to see them leave Manchester City because they're both fantastic players.

Gabriel Jesus always amazes me in the way he performs because he can adapt to any position and play the way he's supposed to in that role. It's nice to have that versatility within a game, where he can be threatening from a number of areas.

Normally, when you change a player’s position, they might play well – but they aren't as dangerous as they would be in their usual role. But Jesus seems to easily adapt to wherever he is on the pitch.

Zinchenko has slotted right into the way Arteta wants him to play – he comes inside to the midfield role like he did at Manchester City. It's bulked the midfield up and helps to stop those counter-attacks as well, allowing the attackers to express themselves more.

What Arteta has created so far is fantastic. He’s bringing the club back up slowly, and if they continue on this improvement, then they'll do well.

He's enjoyed continuous backing, they're bringing in better quality players, and the scouting system seems to have changed a lot. Even the young players coming in are good footballers who are starting to leave their mark as well.

 

Jesse Marsch’s job at Leeds, James Maddison, Sancho and Rashford

  • 19. Last time we spoke, Jesse Marsch hadn’t been in the Leeds job for too long. What do you make of the job he’s done and how he’s tried to rebuild following Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips leaving?

I think he's done a great job. The signing of Brenden Aaronson was one I didn't see coming, if I'm totally honest, but when I've seen him play, it's clear he's adapted to the Premier League so quickly.

He's been one of the main players for Leeds so far this season, and of course, they’ve brought in Tyler Adams as well, who I know very well. He's been fantastic since joining too. While he doesn’t intend on being another Kalvin Phillips or playing that role, he plays an important, necessary role that every team needs. He snuffs out danger, breaks up play, and gives the ball to the players who can make things happen.

Rodrigo is another who was flying at the start of the season before his injury, which will be a big plus for them, considering Patrick Bamford's own injury issues and being in and out of the team.

On the whole, Jesse Marsch has done really well, with Leeds still playing with the same intensity that they showed under Marcelo Bielsa.

But getting those results and not conceding as many goals was the target when he came in, and I think he's done that while bringing in some good players to boot.

  • 20. Leicester clearly didn’t want to lose James Maddison this summer, but will it be a matter of time before he moves onto another club?

I think it'll be hard for him to stay there. I don't really understand the club's situation and I don't get what's gone on for the outgoing of high-quality players.

It sets a statement to the likes of Maddison, which shows they aren't trying to compete with the best and trying to finish in the top six consistently. Somebody like James Maddison wants to play European football, whether it's the Champions League or the Europa League. He wants to have that opportunity to carry on winning medals or fighting for them.

In a way, it looks as if Leicester are taking away those opportunities for him and Youri Tielemans, if I'm honest. I think it'll be interesting to see if they can hold onto them, because I don't see it happening unless they're looking to bring other players in.

  • 21. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford are expected to get England recalls – should they be going to Qatar?

It's a massive opportunity, especially for the likes of those two players. I think those penalty misses in that Euros final have been tough to deal with in general, along with everything going on for them in their football careers.

Right now, they seem to be getting on the scoresheet and playing well within games, which always helps when your team is winning. It helps to express yourself more, but there's also an identity being created at Manchester United right now. Ten Hag is bringing that to the team, so it will be interesting to see what the players are going to bring into games now.

I believe that anybody who is playing well deserves the chance to warrant their place in the England set-up. If they can get that opportunity, then it's up to them to make sure they keep their place.

 

QPR’s Chances of Rejoining the Premier League

  • 22. Queens Park Rangers are pushing for promotion again. What do they need to do this season to finally get over the line and return to the Prem?

They just need to keep winning. The Championship, as we all know, is a tough league. I think it's underestimated how hard it is to get out of the division – there will be games that they should have won and games where they should have lost.

It's just a matter of playing well each game and putting wins on the board, and if you're in a game where the other team is on top of you, then make sure you don't lose and come away with a point.

Those points at the end of the season will add up, but it's not easy to earn promotion out of that league.

  • 23. How far do you think QPR can go this season, and what do you think they will actually achieve?

After speaking to Les Ferdinand, I think they will definitely get in the playoffs. He tells me that they're controlling a lot of the matches, but they still need to kill games off.

They will always create chances, but sometimes they just don't take them, and, in the Championship, you can't let those opportunities slip away. I think all teams would agree that you need to take 25%-50% of those possibilities; otherwise, you're going to look like you're struggling.

However, if you put them in the back of the net, then that propels you. If you can get on a run in the Championship where you go on a little unbeaten streak of five games with four wins in there, then that can take you a long way up the table.

It can put you in that strong position where you can afford to drop points; not that you ever want to, of course. But you maintain a solid position in the table if you can keep putting together a run of games where you keep winning or coming away with a point.

From that position, you can start to kick on with a good chance of being up there in the top six.

  • 24. Chris Willock is looking good again after returning from injury, but there are already rumours linking him with a £25m move away in the next year. How important is he to QPR, and how far do you think he can go in his career?

He's massively important in terms of QPR, and he reminds me a bit of Adel Taarabt when QPR first got themselves promoted in terms of running the show. That said, I'm not sure they're the same personalities.

Taarabt ran the show and got those goals and assists, which effectively got them up, so I can see Chris Willock having a similar impact. If QPR can keep him fit, then I think they will have a good chance of going up.

If he keeps his head in the game and keeps producing for them, then there will come a point where it'll be difficult for QPR to keep hold of him, especially with the way the Premier League is now. A lot of teams are spending a lot of money to just stay in the League, so I wouldn't be surprised if a club came in for him.

It will be hard to keep him there if an offer does come in January, but if they do manage to keep him, then those chances of promotion automatically go much higher than they would if he were to leave.