In Defence Of Nathaniel Clyne

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Nathaniel Clyne seems to have become a hot topic this season. After arriving from Southampton in the summer of 2015, for a fee in the region of £12.5m, Clyne enjoyed an impressive first season at Anfield. As he’d shown in his time at The Saints, Clyne was a solid defender with decent technique, a tidy pass and a good turn of pace. Having also established himself in the England team, it seemed Liverpool had resolved their right-back issue at a very reasonable price. Fans were certainly happy with Clyne, even though his attacking play clearly needed working on.

Fast forward a year and fans drawing up their lists of player upgrades required this summer suddenly included Clyne. The guy who was a consistent performer in a defensively solid Southampton side and had a positive debut season at Anfield is now seen as surplus to requirements by some. I accept that Clyne has had an indifferent campaign defensively and a disappointing one from an attacking perspective, but of all Liverpool’s personnel problems in defence, I still believe Clyne is the least of those worries. A positionally smart midfielder who can read the game effectively and offer the defence some proper protection, a centre-back who can anticipate play and is comfortable with 1v1’s, as well as a left footed left-back who can both defend and provide attacking balance are all much higher priorities than an upgrade on Clyne this summer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Clyne should be immune from criticism, far from it, but it feels as though it’s become en vogue to pin-point him as a weak link in the team. As I’ve already said, I don’t think he’s had a good season and the attacking side of his game is an easy target. It’s an area he needs to improve on with the type of overlapping runs he makes and the quality of his crossing; however, I don’t think he’s as bad going forward as some try to make out.

The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold probably hasn’t helped in terms of perception of Clyne. The youngster looks a talented prospect and will hopefully have a bright future at Anfield, but the impatience of some for him to replace Clyne not only heaps unnecessary pressure and expectation on Alexander-Arnold, but probably also magnifies any indiscretion from Clyne. Alexander-Arnold looks comfortable going forward and his goal for the Under 23’s against Everton has some perceiving him to be our very own Dani Alves. Apart from the fact that we do not have the exceptionally well drilled back three and midfield of Juventus that can offer Alves the freedom to explore his natural attacking strength, Alexander-Arnold will need time and patience to develop his game, so unrealistic expectations and comparisons will not help the kid.

A defensive issue that has stood out for me with Clyne has been when strikers peel off behind our centre-backs and he’s unable to cover when crosses come from our left side. Whilst this is an issue for Clyne, it’s also an issue that our centre-backs too easily allow forwards to drift off them with simple movement. The other side to that is how much easier opponents find it getting behind the left side of our defence and deliver those far post crosses.

This brings me to James Milner and the contributing effect I think he has on Clyne. Although I will freely admit to not being much of a fan of Milner, I absolutely admire his attitude and endeavour to what was an alien position for him at the beginning of this season. After a difficult first couple of games there, I think he grew into the role and performed admirably until the turn of the year. Since then, his form has been patchy, at best, and I feel he’s looked somewhat leggy. His first touch is not great and his crossing is too often awful, especially given that he is a winger by trade. The big issue with him when we attack down that side is that he slows the play down and almost always looks to cut back on his right foot. All of this results in opponents getting back into position and filling space, negating the chance to utilise the pace of Clyne by switching the ball into gaps.

Let me make this clear, Milner’s limitations are not his fault, it was the manager’s decision to convert him and play him where does. This also does not mean that Clyne’s indifferent form can be blamed on Milner, but I do think it is a mitigating factor.

If we can recruit a left footed left-back this summer who is adept going forward and can help the tempo and balance of our attacking play, perhaps then we can better evaluate Clyne and assess if we really do need to consider our options at right-back.

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  1. It’s far fetched to attribute to Milner Clyne’s inability to get in behind the opposition’s full back. There has been many an occasion where he has received the ball in a promising position with space in behind but he chooses the easy option of playing it square in field. I think I could do what he does.

    The problem with articles like these is that they allow for mediocrity by cleverly using caveat wording.

    The fact is Clyne is not good enough to be a full back in a title winning team. The fact that Moses has surpassed him in what is essentially the same role (albeit the system helped him) says it all.

    If Zaha, who is a good player but no where near world class, is running rings round you, then you cannot be good enough for Liverpool.

    These type of articles are apologetic to mediocrity.

  2. So both the article and the above response are symptomatic of a wider issue that we have as Liverpool fans. Either the player is world class or we should bomb him out are the 2 stock responses we have as fans. The truth is somewhere in between, whilst Andy is right to highlight his deficiencies this season, and they have been plentiful. The over reaction from the fan base has been ridiculous. Clyne is a good player, not great, he is fairly competent defensively but comes unstuck against high quality players and movement. His biggest problem (IMO) this season has been his lack of end product despite being in some fairly advanced positions, he has fairly regularly not produced from an attacking perspective and it has impacted quite significantly

    However the answer is not to sell him and buy someone new, Moses is mentioned as a player who has surpassed him this season, but how many Chelsea fans would have had him anywhere near the team at the start of the season (no Liverpool fan would have guessed his performances would have been at this level)???

    Clyne played nigh on every match for 2 years (for us) and probably for 3 or 4 years before for Soton. So fatigue will no doubt have a bearing on his performance as well

    So instead of looking to replace him, perhaps the answer is to build on what we have. We have a good full back, who understands Klopp’s system and is by no means the worst player in the back 4. Surely we should be looking to build on that, by bringing in another quality player to compete with him and not replace him.

    The perfect scenario would be Clyne stays as a squad player and we bring in someone who is better, but this is the real world (and we don’t have oil money) so we will most likely go with a younger player with potential and look to phase him in and give Clyne some rest during the season and we can see how well or performs with an upgraded defence and some recovery time built in in 17-18

  3. My kingdom for a fullback who can defend and knows when to cover across the box. Finnan and Carra did it so well from the RB position. There is too much focus on whether a fullback can go forward a la Alves. When did we decide it was more important for a fullback to be able to dribble into the opposition box?


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