Nathaniel Clyne will miss the rest of 2019 after picking up an injury in Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States.
The former Southampton right back, 28, sustained a knee ligament injury in the European Champions’ 3-2 friendly defeat to Borussia Dortmund.
It was later revealed that Clyne, who has a year remaining on his Anfield deal, will miss at least six months of action and has departed the Reds’ tour to undergo treatment in England. The severity of the injury means it is eminently possible that Clyne may have played his final game for Liverpool.
The Crystal Palace academy graduates’ ACL tear is the second major injury that has afflicted him in recent years. Clyne missed an entire calendar year of football between 2017 and 2018 with a back injury.
The injury to Clyne will impact Liverpool in more ways than one.
It looked likely that the former England international would have stayed with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds this summer, but his contractual situation — coupled with the length of the time Clyne will spend on the sidelines — will mean any chances the Reds would have had to recoup any of the £12M they paid to Southampton for the right backs services in 2015 are gone.
Klopp will also have to alter his plans for the season, with regards to a back-up right back. Nominally, several of Liverpool’s players — Fabinho, Joe Gomez and even Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain — can play in the position but they are needed in other parts of the pitch.
There is the option to fast track 17-year-old Ki Jana Hoever’s development and make him the understudy to Trent Alexander Arnold, but using a player that young — especially on the weaker side of Liverpool’s centre half axis — is not without risks.
At this juncture, with Klopp suggesting Liverpool won’t delve into the transfer market to replace Clyne, the most likely scenario is James Milner becoming the back-up right and left-back.
The 33 year old returning to full back — a position he played for the entirety of the 2016/2017 season — means there will be an opening in Liverpool’s midfield, either on the bench or from the start, for another midfielder.
Milner is a trusted lieutenant of Klopp and started all of the Reds’ games away to their top-six rivals — as well as the Merseyside derby away to Everton — last season, but the likelihood is the former Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Manchester City player will start on the bench as the Swiss army knife, versatile, full-back and midfield cover option more often than not next season.
With Henderson captain and resurgent in the advanced central midfield role and Fabinho established as the first choice number six, the most likely player to step into the midfield void that Milner will leave is Naby Keita. The Guinean’s start to life at Anfield was slower than anticipated, but the former Red Bull Leipzig player settled well before the end of last season and impressed in several games before his season was ended prematurely by a poor tackle from Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in the Champions League semi-final in The Camp Nou.
A common thread in Liverpool’s big away Premier League games last season was their inability to fashion big chances for their forward line. As admirable as Milner’s defensive work and all round attitude is, he is not the type of player who will unpick a defensive lock. Keita, on the other hand, is.
The European Champions’ only big away victory in the league last season was away to Spurs, and this was also the only game that Keita, 25, started in. The rest of the games finished in draws — or in the case of the game away to Manchester City, a 2-1 defeat.
Encouragingly, Keita showed sings of adapting to the off the ball demands of Klopp’s system last season. Coupled with his natural ability to dribble through defences and the ambition of his passing, the Guinean could well begin more games than his 16 league starts last season.
Clyne’s injury is a blow to Liverpool, but it could put into motion a personnel reshuffle that could see Keita nail down a spot as one of Klopp’s go to big game players.