It’s been a prolonged 10 months since Nathaniel Clyne last played a match for Liverpool, which saw us clinch Champions League qualification on the last game of the season against Middlesbrough. Back then, he was our number 1 right-back with no real debate – however, this time around for the returning full-back there are new borders and he has a real fight on his hands to keep his spot.
Last Sunday saw the comeback of the forgotten Englishman for the under 23’s and his return has got fans talking about our right-back census.
In the past few weeks Trent Alexander-Arnold has stepped up immensely for the reds and has seemingly made the right-back spot his after a spell of Joe Gomez holding the position, and Klopp’s confidence in him was shown in his choice to pick him in the last-16 of the Champions League against Porto, making him the 5th youngest Englishman to play in the knockout stages of the competition – some feat. Now suggesting Trent will keep his right-back spot ahead of Clyne is a different story, despite his growing potential and recent performances. Clyne’s professionalism and consistency is something we can never take for granted and with him being out for such a lengthy period its easy to forget the quality he can bring.
Recently, skipper Jordan Henderson and teammates have said to of been stunned in Marbella at their training camp at just how sharp he is and the levels he has reached so quickly since returning. This is just an indicator of Clyne’s attitude and determination as a character, but no doubt he will also have the World Cup in the back of his mind as he’ll be itching to get back out on the field as swiftly as possible to remind Southgate of his quality, in a position with such strong competition in the England ranks.
As a position which has been somewhat bare in the past decade at Liverpool, there is now a fight for the right-back spot amongst a troupe of English talent. Trent and Gomez are in a fortunate position to learn from Clyne as he is a fitting role model to benefit from and can certainly use his professional nature to their benefit – a value which Jordan Henderson has echoed claiming, “he’s one of those players that can be taken for granted, because in and around football he’s extremely low key, but he is someone who his fellow professionals rate as highly as you can imagine”.
The imposed ‘fight’ for the right-back spot may not be such a fight instantaneously however, as Trent still has a lot to learn – especially defensively, and Clyne’s game is hard to match making him one of the best full backs in the league, but, he now finds himself in a different position that he was in before, and when he now looks over his shoulder he’s got a lot more company right behind him. Trent’s relentless and tenacious character is hard to ignore after suggesting he will not rest until the captain’s armband is his, and if I was holding his position I would not want to make any slip-ups. With Klopp’s boldness now a custom theme, Clyne now finds himself in a position where a few average performances could give Trent or Joe the opportunity to replace him, and no doubt Clyne is wary of this, visible in his sharpness and eagerness to come back in training as strong as ever to retain his spot.
Despite the competitiveness in this position, the setting is still Clyne almost as the professor and Trent and Gomez as the two apprentices who are still developing in the game. There’s no real surprise in Clyne’s recent inclusion in the Champions League squad, and there shouldn’t be any surprise if he slots straight back into the first team when he’s fit. Last season he made 42 appearances making him a regular face on the team sheet, and we became so accustom to his standards and performances he was never under scrutiny as he managed to meet them on such a consistent basis.
All this means is in a position which has been so scarce in a Liverpool team, we have an array of quality there and the fierce competition will only raise the benchmark higher. Similarly to our left-back spot, Scotsman Andy Robertson has flown onto the scene in another position which has been an even more daunting position in our past decade, and with VVD now in town hopefully these are finally signs of a solid Liverpool defence.