IT’S January 2019.
Nathaniel Clyne, signed for £12.5m from Southampton in July 2015, has already made two appearances for his new club Bournemouth — in which they’ve conceded five goals.
Those two consecutive starts are his first back-to-back games since May 2017. In fact, he had only made 10 Liverpool appearances in total from that point until his move.
So why are we still talking about Nathaniel Clyne?
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury caused some of the more revisionist types within the supporter base to rue the all but permanent release of Clyne back to the south coast.
Perhaps it’s the pressure of being the league leaders, in what could be one of the most exciting title races in years, that is causing some to lose their heads at the slightest sign of adversity.
Yes, Trent’s injury isn’t ideal, particularly given it comes at a time when the defensive department is in the midst of an injury crisis of sorts. However, injuries are going to happen and that’s why the manager has been working tirelessly to increase the depth of his squad down the years.
Jürgen Klopp appears to have employed a strategy of buying players who can play across several positions and it pays dividends in these situations.
James Milner and Fabinho are two senior options who could, in theory, fill in at right back, though most would rather we didn’t have to put up with square-ish pegs in round-ish holes while we’re chasing our first league title in nearly 30 years.
Milner deputised well in that role during the win away at Bournemouth — which could be seen as the turning point for The Reds in terms of rediscovering their attacking fluidity — while Fabinho has the experience of playing in that role for Brazil — a team who also place a lot of onus on their full backs to contribute in an attacking sense.
Fabinho’s recent stint at centre half showed he has the ability to offer The Reds options away from his usual midfield role, but it goes without saying that most would rather seen him in his more familiar role.
Milner, on the other hand, was criticised for his performance at Manchester City and doesn’t sit particularly high in the midfield pecking order given the emergence of Fabinho, the form of Gini Wijnaldum, the steadiness of Jordan Henderson, the majesty of Xherdan Shaqiri and the gradual easing in of Naby Keita.
The 33-year-old starred on the opposite flank as a left back during the 2016-17 season, offering a different threat cutting in on his right foot. Although he admitted it wasn’t his preferred position at the time, the situation at Liverpool is much different now, and the role he’ll have to fulfill is much less permanent too.
And that’s the thing — as David Maddock from the Mirror pointed out on Twitter — Trent is only set to miss three games, if he recovers in the time currently being estimated.
Klopp not panicking over Trent AA injury – likely to miss only 3 games. Manager let Clyne go because he wants @JamesMilner influence in his dressing room and in team if possible…and back up full back (on both sides) offers opportunity. Gomez back next week too #LFC
— David Maddock (@MaddockMirror) 15 January 2019
What’s more, those bemoaning the loaning of Clyne to Bournemouth are likely to be the same fans who are keen to see prospects from The Academy given a chance.
Of course when you’re chasing a title the last thing you want is to have to rely on kids, but The Reds are still some way off that as things stand.
What it could do is offer the likes of Rafa Camacho and Ki-Jana Hoever the chance to be involved in the first-team picture once again.
Both started for the under-23s against Brighton the other night, though their evenings took fairly differing turns.
Hoever received his marching orders in bizarre circumstances just 20 minutes into the contest, after the referee appeared to have his mind changed by the linesman as to whether the Dutch youngster was the last man — spoiler… he wasn’t.
While that means he won’t be able to feature for the under-23s when they take on West Brom this Sunday, it doesn’t mean he is unavailable to feature for the first team.
Though our first real glimpse of his talents was at centre half, he’s perfectly capable of doing a job at right back, and who would be against him getting a few minutes if there comes a point when the pressure is off in the next few games?
Camacho, on the other hand, displayed his versatility by leading the line and grabbing the opening goal in the 1-1 draw at The Academy in Kirkby, exactly a week after making his competitive first-team debut as a right back.
Liverpool under-23s manager Neil Critchley praised Camacho’s performance as striker, saying: “He’s very intelligent. He gives problems cause he finds pockets of space, and then he can turn and link the play. He’s always dangerous when he turns and gets running at people. His work without the ball, coming back and resetting the press, was magnificent.”
While the 18-year-old was criticised in some quarters for his positioning in particular during the Wolves defeat, he never hid and always showed for the ball and, although his left-footed strike from distance represented a wasted effort for The Reds in a frustrating encounter, the confidence to take that on shouldn’t be overly criticised.
Again, in an ideal world you don’t want to be heaping pressure on kids to play one of the more important positions on the pitch when you’re hunting for titles. But it wouldn’t be a complete disaster to see either Camacho or Hoever get some minutes here and there, while the more experienced Milner, or perhaps Fabinho, assume the greater responsibility as starters.
Liverpool’s pathway from The Academy to the first team is a huge selling point for the club at the moment and, coupled with the success being seen at senior level, The Reds are striking the balance right.
Klopp isn’t lacking for cover in many positions. It’s a situation we’ve coveted for years, and watched rivals get right all the while. The schedule is kinder to The Reds now and they’re primed to overcome these latest obstacles without a hitch.
So why are we still talking about Nathaniel Clyne?
For instant reaction to all the Liverpool news and events that matter to you, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player…
“…’If you stay here you’ll be a hero, if you go anywhere else you’ll just be another player’, right now Philippe Coutinho is just another player.
“I’d have him back in a heartbeat.” 🎩
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) January 15, 2019