Ahead of this week’s North London Derby, BritishGambler.co.uk spoke to former Tottenham, Leeds, Newcastle and Real Madrid centre-back Jonathan Woodgate.
Woodgate has said that Spurs will beat Arsenal on Thursday to clinch Top 4, and that Liverpool will pip City to the Premier League title and beat his old club Real Madrid to win the Champions League. He also said that centre-back Van Dijk is not only the best centre-back in the world right now, but the best he has seen in his lifetime.
Woodgate also suggested Lingard be made top priority in summer for Newcastle, and that Lingard will thrive on being the ‘big fish’ at St James’ Park. Woodgate believes that Everton will avoid the drop, and that it will be one from Leeds or Burnley that gets relegated this season, but it’s simply too tight to call.
Did Liverpool mess up their title chances with the draw against Spurs? Will City win the title now?
I wouldn’t say Liverpool messed up as I was at the game and Tottenham were exceptional, and it was a tough game. I wouldn’t say Liverpool messed up but at this point of the season, we always expect Man City and Liverpool to get three points, and we think they’ve thrown the title away – they haven’t, because I think city will drop points towards the end of the season somewhere.
I was at the Real Madrid game and Man city didn’t do a lot wrong, it was just a freak 5 minutes of injury time, it was just crazy. The only thing that disappointed me was that the only opportunity they had after going behind was Foden with the header. Man City have got over the psychological blow of Madrid, but I still think they will drop points somewhere before the end of the season.
Who will win the Premier League?
I could say one today, and the other tomorrow. I’m gonna go with Liverpool, just because of the injuries Liverpool have at the back, to Kyle Walker and Laporte, I think that’s going to be huge.
At the other end of the table, who do you think will be relegated from the Premier League? Will Leeds stay up?
I hope they do! It’s hard to judge. Everton have been brilliant the last few games, beating Chelsea at home and beating Leicester away and the victory against Man United as well – I was looking at their away form and thinking they hadn’t won since Brighton on August 28th – 6 points away from home since before Leicester, and I think they’ll be okay now as they’ve got a couple of home games and I think they’ll pick up 6 points from their two home games. It’s gonna be down to Burnley and Leeds.
I watched Jesse Marsch’s first game against Leicester, and I know they got beat in that game, but you could see what they were trying to do and they were very good. They’ve been playing very well, and I thought they were clear of the danger, but have been dragged back in by the form of Burnley and Everton. But it’s out of Burnley and Leeds!
How do you see Leeds v Chelsea shaping up?
Chelsea aren’t in great form, they’ve got 5 points from their last 5 games and look like they’ve taken their foot off the gas a bit, and have the cup final coming up so will they maybe rest a few players for that? I know third isn’t in the bag yet with Arsenal and Spurs putting the pressure on, so it will be interesting to see what team Tuchel puts out.
Is this a ‘must win’ for Leeds or is it the slightly less difficult ties against Brighton and Brentford that will decide it?
You wanna try and win every game but a point wouldn’t be a bad result against Chelsea. But if they rest a few players, Leeds could capitalise on it and as I said, Chelsea are not in great form at the minute.
What has happened at Leeds this year? Is it just the injury problems?
I think the injuries have really hampered them. Most of the season they’ve had no Cooper, Phillips and Bamford – the spine of the team. Cooper is injured now, Stuart Dallas, Bamford. Without three of the most reliable players aside from Phillips and Raphina, it’s going to be really difficult for Leeds, but I just hope they stay up. I really do because they’ve a massive football club. Maybe Leeds could have brought in a big name striker in the January transfer window.
Bielsa is a cult figure to Leeds fans – would you have kept him as manager if it were your decision?
I would have kept Bielsa on, as I think he would have turned it round. I know they’d been on a bad run, particularly at home losing a few, but he would have turned it around. I was a big fan of Marcelo Bielsa, and what he did to the Leeds team and the players, he improved the club and the players, but I just think Leeds wanted something fresh.
I was a big fan of Marcelo Bielsa, but I just think Leeds wanted something fresh
Does the game on the weekend against City shows there’s still a long way to go for Newcastle? Is Europe realistic for Newcastle next season?
It depends who they sign, and they made some really astute signings in January. They’ll do it again, and it’s just about who they’ll attract and if they can get that world class talent. People like Jesse Lingard, who are really good, solid Premier League players. I think Newcastle need to aim to get into Europe like West Ham did. You can’t tell me that Newcastle can’t be better than Wolves next season? Wolves have done well but Newcastle will be aiming for them.
Newcastle need to aim to get into Europe like West Ham did
Eddie Howe has done a terrific job, and loved what he did at Bournemouth and how he made them play, and he’s brought some of that to Newcastle.
Lingard was so good at West Ham, his brother’s views on his futures – he seems destined to leave and Newcastle seems an obvious choice?
I think if he comes to Newcastle he will be the big fish, and he’s not the big fish at United. If he goes he will be one of the main men, and that might help him. I like him and think he has great qualities, and great attitude. He will want to prove a few people wrong. He’s only started two games this season and he hasn’t had a fair crack of the whip this season. If you look how bad United have been, has he had a fair crack at it? I don’t think so!
Is it sad, even as someone who played for Leeds, to see a club like Man United have such a fall from grace?
I think they’ve been mis-managed, and the recruitment has been poor. Look at the managers that have been in there – Mourinho, Van Gaal, Moyes, Solskjaer and now Ragnick – none of them have been able to produce the goods, and there hasn’t really been a plan at United. On Ronaldo, if you’re gonna sign him, build a team around him. It was done that last minute and no one expected him to go there, it wasn’t planned – just because City wanted him and Untied said ‘you’re not having him, so we are having him’. Recruitment has gone out the window at United. Look at City – you know how they play, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea. You don’t know how United play, they don’t have an identity.
Arsenal have done very well in investing in youth and re-building these last few years, but United have just thrown money at the problem?
What arsenal have done really well is sticking with Arteta when it has been tough, at the start of the season and got beat in the first three but they stuck by him – I like Arteta and think he’s done a great job, and look what they’re creating by sticking with him. Nketiah, Martinelli, Saka, Smith-Rowe. It’s brilliant and fans wanna see that young energy coming through.
North London derby this week – score prediction? Will the winner get 4th spot?
Yep. Spurs beat Arsenal. I’m not saying that because I’m an ex-Spurs player, but because I watched them away from home against Liverpool, but if they counter attack like they did against Liverpool, they’ll win against Arsenal. Their counter is so aggressive, and so good. I don’t see who can deal with Son, Kane and Kulusevski. The power of those three players will be the drivbng force.
Spurs beat Arsenal
I don’t think either team will be scared of eachotehr because they’re fighting for one place. Back in the day wit hHenry, Petit, Overmards, Pires – it was pure speed. I think Spurs will beat Arsenal and get the Champions League
Thoughts on Harry Kane’s future?
I think if conte leaves, Kane leaves. He has two years left on his contract and Conte only has a year let and has been rumoured with other clubs. And I think Conte will go if they don’t get the top four. I know City look like they’re competed the signing of Haaland, but there will be someone out there who wants to take Harry Kane – he’s World Class.
Who will win the Champions League final?
Liverpool will win. They’ve got too much. They’re too aggressive, they’re too quick, thy close down too quick. They’re animals these Liverpool players. They’re a juggernaut of a team. They have so much ability in the team and so much pace, power and intensity to their game. I think Real will struggle with it. I watched Real against City, Chelsea, PSG, and yes they beat them all but needed a bit of luck. In a one-off game against Liverpool – not at the Bernabeu – I think Liverpool will have too much and will win.
Is Van Dijk the best CB in the world?
I think he’s the best centre back I’ve seen in my lifetime. He’s incredible. He’s an incredible player. The best I’ve seen. I think Benzema is on something ridiculous like 43 goals for the season and he will need to be at his best against Van Dijk. You play against a centre back like Van Dijk, and he just has everything. Everything you’d want in a centre back. If you could create a centre back and say this is what I’d want him to look like – Virgil Van Dijk is that player. If Liverpool lose him, he is irreplicable. He’s the most important player in that Liverpool team. Playing against Benzema is tough, but playing against Van Dijk is on another planet. He’s just outrageously good
Best player you played against?
I’ve got three – Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez and Thierry Henry.
Best player you played with?
Zidane. Unbelieveable, so elegant. I was so lucky to be involved with such world class players. The things he would do in training were just frightening. Couldn’t get the ball off him. He’d just see passes that weren’t there. Special player.
You were at Madrid at the same time as R9 – did you have to mark him in training a few times?
I tried to mark him in training! When Ronaldo wanted to turn it on, he could really turn it on. And he could turn it on. He was that good that he could just turn it on whenever he wanted to, to be honest. Real top player. Everyone said he was heavy, but you could see in the dressing room without a shirt on he was muscly, powerful and strong. Great personality as well!
Bet Ronaldo good value for a beer back in the day!
Really got on with Ronaldo and the Brazilian lads – all very down to earth and enjoy themselves and enjoy life, with happy go lucky personalities, which is similar to myself.
Top 3 players from your time at Madrid?
Zidane, Ronaldo and Guti. That Guti backheel to Ronaldo against Deportivo. He was just phenomenal, very underrated player.
More from Jonathan Woodgate:
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