IN recent weeks there has been growing attention among Liverpool fans over Nathaniel Clyne and his long-term prospects at Liverpool. One of the most steady performers at the club since his £12.5 million arrival from Southampton in the summer of 2015, Clyne’s form has undoubtedly dipped over the past couple of months, coinciding with the general malaise which affected the team as a whole over this period.
Widely regarded as a model of consistency, turning in 7/10 performances every week, with the occasional eight or nine thrown in, Clyne made the step up from Southampton to Liverpool with minimum fuss, proving a real breath of fresh air following Glen Johnson’s gradual deterioration towards the back end of his time on Merseyside.
Not only reliable in terms of the quality of his performances, Clyne is one of the most durable players in this Liverpool squad, having started 33 league games last season, missing just one so far this time out. With Liverpool’s centre-back combination constantly needing chopping and changing, the very fact that Clyne is available to be called upon every week is an important asset of his and is crucial in terms of building defensive partnerships. Fitness records are also something Liverpool must factor in when recruiting new signings this summer, by the way.
Although the role of the modern full-back requires them to provide a key attacking outlet, Clyne is one of an increasingly rare breed in that he is first and foremost an excellent defender. Positionally, he knows exactly where to be most of the time and will judge the timing of his forward runs well so as not to leave his side of the pitch dangerously exposed. Strong in the tackle and physically well-equipped with his natural pace and robust frame, Clyne is extremely difficult to beat in one-on-one situations.
Admittedly, there are times when he can be accused of switching off and he isn’t the strongest player in the air, but these faults apply to virtually all full-backs and are rarities with Clyne.
It is offensively where much of the recent frustration lies. Given the system Liverpool play and the common tendency to dominate possession against the vast majority of opponents, the full-backs are tasked not only with defensive duties, but also must form an important part of the attacking structure, providing the main source of width in forward areas given the natural inclination of Phil Coutinho and Sadio Mane to drift infield.
In 83 appearances for Liverpool, Clyne has managed just two goals and four assists in total, which, given the amount of possession he receives in advanced positions, falls short of what you would ideally want from your full-back in this system. Too often his crosses are either over hit or fail to bypass the first defender and he often looks uncomfortable when he has too much time on the ball.
Clyne manages just 0.5 successful take-ons per game, which is comparatively inferior to the other top right-backs in the Premier League, with Kyle Walker averaging 1.2, Hector Bellerin 1.5 and Antonio Valencia 1.4. Very rarely do you ever see Clyne burst past a player and especially when Liverpool struggle to break down deep-lying defences, you sometimes want him to offer that little bit extra rather than simply taking the safe option and passing backwards.
It’s particularly frustrating given that Clyne has the capacity to do it, as he showed when providing the assist for Philippe Coutinho’s second goal at the Emirates against Arsenal in August, using his speed to beat his man and get to the byline before providing a quality delivery into the box. He can and should be doing more of that.
Yet when we criticise Clyne, it is worth acknowledging how statistically he is actually the most creative right-back in the league, averaging 1.4 chances per game, compared to Walker (1.3), Bellerin (0.6) and Valencia (1.2). This is in part down to the amount of possession he gets in wide areas as a result of how Liverpool play, but nonetheless it suggests his attacking limitations are not nearly as severe as many seem to suggest.
There is certainly an argument that Clyne would benefit from having more of a target to aim for in the middle, as trying to pick out Roberto Firmino in a crowded penalty area full of 6ft 5in defenders is almost impossible most of the time.
The question I ask whenever people suggest a player isn’t good enough for Liverpool is how feasible it would be to replace and upgrade on them. With some, such as Dejan Lovren (who I believe would be a good third-choice centre-back next season), there is a stronger case to say we can cash in and find a better quality replacement.
With Clyne, however, I think it’s very difficult to see who we could go out and buy who would be a definite improvement at this stage. Across Europe in general, there is a dearth of top-class right-backs (and left-backs too) and the very best — the likes of Dani Carvajal, Juanfran, Dani Alves, Philipp Lahm — are already at the top clubs and are unattainable, with most of them in the latter stages of their careers.
Monaco’s Djibril Sidibe and PSG’s Serge Aurier are both 24 and would possibly be targets were Liverpool to look for options in that position — that’s if they would even consider coming to Liverpool with other wealthier, top clubs all likely keeping tabs on them. But as is the case with any new signing, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they would settle in well and adapt quickly at Liverpool, whereas Clyne is already integrated as a key member of the squad and has those existing relationships with the players and the coaching staff. He knows the city and what it’s like to play in this league, too.
A key point in all this is that perhaps Clyne has become too secure in his position and needs to have some proper competition. There’s no need to look to the transfer market for this, though, as the impressive emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold provides the answer from within. He’s still only 18 and far more raw than Clyne in defensive terms, but Trent arguably already carries a greater attacking threat from right-back with his crossing ability and technique on the ball.
After a shaky start, he coped admirably when thrown in at Old Trafford in Clyne’s absence and demonstrated maturity beyond his years. That Klopp was prepared to start Trent instead of shifting James Milner to cover right-back with Alberto Moreno at left-back speaks volumes of his prospects. He already looks very much like a player who has all the tools to make it at Liverpool in the long-run.
In many ways, it’s an ideal situation. It’s easy to envisage a scenario in which Trent becomes a viable option against more defensive sides, while Clyne continues as the main option against the strongest opponents next season. Strong competition is always healthy and with European football of some form to contend with next season, Liverpool will need at least two strong options in each position.
Clyne is an ideal role model for Trent to learn from, while Trent can push Clyne to raise his game and keep him on his heels as his long-term successor. Of all the issues in the current squad, right-back certainly isn’t anywhere near the top of the priorities to address.
Although Clyne isn’t perfect and we should always be looking to improve, he should not be dismissed off the back of a poor couple of months by his standards and he remains one of the top right-backs out there at the moment. With a hugely promising Scouse prospect waiting in the wings, it’s a position which is sorted for the foreseeable future.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
Like The Anfield Wrap on Facebook
I’m not convinced he’s been widely seen as a consistent 7/10. Personally, I think that line has come from TAW only. I’m not convinced about him, never have been. I was complaining about his lack of assists at the exact moment of his excellent assist v Boro. That said, I don’t think it’s a position we should be looking to improve on this summer. No chance. Clyne is ok. To contradict myself, he’s steady enough. There are far more important positions to fill first. Like I said on Mike’s Emre Can piece, we can’t just replace the whole team because they’re not absolute quality. We need to sign too many players as it is this summer. Trying to upgrade on Clyne and Can is folly at this juncture. The spine of the team is everything and it’s there we need extra bodies. Naturally, a left back and winger are needed too. Next season will be a big one for Clyne. I feel he’ll either cement his place for the next 3 or 4 years or he’ll come under the radar for upgrade in time.
One more thing, you mention the potential upgrades but it’s not as simple as that. The best signings in the PL are not always the most well known. An example would be Alonso at left back. He was at Bolton then did well at Fiorentina but he wasn’t top of everyone’s wish list yet he’s proved more than capable for Chelsea. My hope is that Klopp and his team are returning to more traditional scouting methods of word of mouth from networks rather than software. There are better players out there than Clyne who you may not know about. Now’s not the time though. He’ll do for now.
Interesting comment, Robin. If I remember correctly, you were one of the most excited among Reds diehards when Clyne replaced Glenn Johnson :)))
Now, here’s my two cents worth (or two pences worth):
I agree with you that we have priorities at other positions as compared to right back slot. Moreover, it is almost impossible to upgrade on Clyne at the moment. (** Especially if we average out his overall performances — and include the extremely important factor whenever he is playing TOGETHER with our first teamers in the right side of the pitch –TOGETHER with Matip, Hendo, Lallana, and Mane**)
I believed (and still do) that Clyne is better than Walker. And he will prove me right during the next three seasons, in my opinion.
Another observation is all the league winning teams usually have two full backs (or wing backs) that offer a mixed skillset. One of them will be gung ho flying attacking type while the other one is stronger in defensive side. Clyne, in my opinion is stronger defensively. Just to put into numbers, Clyne would be 6.5:3.5 mix (6.5 being defensive side). Therefore we need a left back Who is a reverse — 5:5 or 4:6 (currently, millie maybe similar range of 6:4 type).
Recent league winners — Moses/Alonso; evra/Neville; Ashley Cole/Lauren ; just a few examples.
So, in conclusion — we need Clyne as our long term permanent fixture whole we continue to nurture TAA (and TAA may yet end up in midfield or in attack instead of right back). And yes, we need to upgrade left back and also left sided wide player the summer.
Well, there’s a couple of things there. Obviously, it’s opinion based so not accurate but I have a hidden anger at Liverpool fans because I feel over the past 25 years, we’ve had players who aren’t good enough to get you into the top 6 let alone top 1 but the fans in their wisdom have said ‘he’s ok, he’s pretty good’. Johnson became one of them and I was ecstatic to see him go. Same with Skrtel and Agger in his last few seasons. There’s 1 in the squad now who plays who I can’t wait to see leave. If a player is only good 50 or 60% of the time then I don’t want to know them. I suppose what I’m hinting at is 2 things – 1) LFC fans can often put loyalty before rationale. In my work when I was running projects, I was extremely ruthless and didn’t suffer fools gladly. I sacked the ones who didn’t have the same work ethic. Simple. You end up, quite quickly, with a great team. I’ve no time for nice blokes, ok players, good sometimes etc. It’s cut throat a this level. Our fans are too nice. 2) I also feel, or guess, that the perception of fans can make or break a player. If everyone who likes a players personality is commenting that he should play more then maybe it creates momentum. Klopp references things that are getting said on social media, daily. He’s aware of it all. Maybe, it takes the pressure off those higher up to look for better.
I just think we’ve got to be honest. If a player isn’t top 4 quality then we should be kicking off and demanding better or we just stay 6th, 7th, 8th. I think that’s happened too much. One could argue we ruined Benteke and Mario’s LFC career in a similar way. Clyne’s ok. He’s certainly doesn’t have one foot out the door – far from it. Let’s not go over the top though. We need to see more. We need another tall CH to accommodate him better. Say Lucas plays there then 3 of your back 4 are very small. Doesn’t work. Add 2 tall CH’s and it all becomes ok.
Fair comment, Robin.
And agreed with adding tall/tough CH to the current mix too. Maybe Gomez is that guy??
Back to my point in above post regarding right side of the pitch vs left side of the pitch (Hendo being the holding guy would belong to both sides of course). Our current right side group is definitely stronger than the left side group. Possibly that’s the reason some teams intentionally target our left side where Millie without proper cover from Phil or anyone else struggled at times. To be fair to him, he was playing without consistent partners at CH, Gini and Phil during most part of Jan and Feb.
Klopp can’t change the whole 11 obviously and on our day we could match any team really. Having said that, he definitely need to add a target man (really hope Origi grows into this role), left sided wide player (hope Ojo or Kent would step up), and left back (we don’t have any in the u23 who is good enough).
I do want to see Kent, Ojo, Wilson, Woodburn, Stewart, Ejari, and Origi to grow into the next step and provide strong competition to the current first teamers. But at the same time as a fan I do want to see the consistent result right here tight now too.
Buy a top left back and play Milner at right back.
Finding a better right-back than Clyne is just not a priority, given all the other positions that need strengthening. If Clyne gets injured/suspended then Trent Alexander-Arnold plays. Or Milner can fill in at a push, and it’s likely that Jon Flanagan will be back in the summer.
Liverpool would be better off spending their time and money going after some midfielders, another centre back and a forward. While they might not be able to sign the likes of Lacazette – who lots of teams will be in for – it might be worth looking at really good players who are looking to move on from top teams like Real Madrid.
Isco and Morata have both made noises about wanting to leave and both would significantly improve Liverpool. Both are also only 24 years old and with Real likely to sign new players in the summer they should be available for a price that represents decent value.
I think that Trent has amazing potential and could really save us a lot of money in the coming years. However I feel we need a new CH, maybe gomez could step up or we could get Van from Southampton..we also need another defensive midfielder to. Line up with Can and gini..maybe bakayaro from Monaco…Lastly the striker, I don’t think Origi is good enough to pllay for this club.. another young striker we could invest in could be Iheanacho, who could be available in the summer
I disagree with you and those of you who think we shouldn’t be looking for a RB.
Clyne is a hardworking player, understands some basic playing directives and on his day or the team’s day, he looks close to 7/10.
However the fact is that he has shown not to be very intelligent or skillful and I don’t mean in a derogatory sense but let ok at players like Roberto Carlos, Danny Alves, etc they have much more to offer in defensive duties and can score from nearly 30 yards and play intelligent football with players even smarter and skillful than they are.
A player in my opinion needs to have a type of sixth sense, an instinct to play the ball or take on opponents without a predictable outcome.
Clyne unfortunately doesn’t have what it takes to be that lady be of player. He is at best a supporting cast and can be an efficient one if used with a plan that is black and white. Anything more we see the same rubbish display he has shown when it really mattered.
I wish Klopp has a few options that he can look to buy to alleviate that kind of unwarranted pressure on Clyne as fans who think he’s the answer have already added that (this article and writer for example).
Clyne is not the answer to LFC problem in the RB, please get another RB. Please sign Iheanacho from Manchester City because Coutinho may leave for Barca. We need a reliable striker like Ibra or Aguero. Also, LFC needs; LB, CD, a good right winger and a cover like Kante in the mid field. Total needed (7). Please, let Emre Can go now, he always loose concentration on the field.