Jack Hallows analyses whether Nathaniel Clyne’s recent performances have been good enough or whether Trent Alexander-Arnold deserves a chance in the side.
The Englishman is an impressive option on the right-hand side of the Reds defence and has been one of the most featured players during Klopp’s Liverpool tenure. However, there remain question marks over what he offers going forward. Defensively there are no such worries as Clyne is one of the best defenders at the club but his tendency to look like a deer in headlights on the ball has some fans worried.
Clyne’s pace makes him a huge outlet for the Reds when looking to break and the combination play between himself, Lallana and Mané is often key in moving the ball up the field at speed. It’s what he does when bearing down on the opposition box, however, that causes the frustrations. The right-back has become synonymous with poor long range efforts, weak crosses and taking too much time on the ball. However, are the criticisms entirely justified?
Is it entirely Clyne’s fault?
A quick look at attacking statistics this season paints a picture of Clyne not contributing anywhere near enough in the final third this season. No goals and just two assists from 27 Premier League games is hardly an impressive output, especially when compared to some of the league’s other full backs. Seamus Coleman of Everton has four goals and two assists, Kyle Walker six assists, Antonio Valencia three assists and Victor Moses three goals and two assists. In fact, only Hector Bellerin of the other regular right backs in contention for the top six can match Clyne’s low output of no goals and two assists.
On the surface, that’s just simply not good enough. Contributing to just two goals out of 60 scored in the league – especially when James Milner on the left has scored six penalties and assisted three – is a poor return and does point to a lack of composure in and around the opposition penalty area. However, it can be argued that it isn’t just Clyne at fault.
When we take a deeper look at the chance creation statistics of all of the aforementioned full backs, we uncover some interesting reading. Clyne has created 39 goalscoring chances for teammates this season, more than all of Kyle Walker (34), Seamus Coleman (15), Antonio Valencia (29), Victor Moses (18) and Hector Bellerin (14). For me, this highlights the wasteful nature of Liverpool’s forwards – a point further highlighted when we consider Milner has just three assists from 40 goal scoring chances created. That’s a total of seven assists from almost 80 chances created by the Reds’ full backs.
Of course, Clyne’s recent form probably has a lot to do with his recent criticisms. While often his defensive contributions make up for a lack of attacking input, the Englishman has struggled of late to hit top form and looks as if he could desperately do with a break. Against Burnley, Clyne failed to track the run of Barnes, allowing the forward to steal in behind and poke the ball home, while against Arsenal he gave Welbeck far too much space in which to run in behind and lift the ball over Mignolet.
They’re simple, defensive errors for a full back and certainly make you feel as if Clyne is starting to feel not being given a rest. The right back has been a constant in Klopp’s side since the German’s arrival – mainly due to lack of another quality right back in the squad – and it seems to finally be taking its toll with his decision making and positioning raising questions. Make mistakes at one end of the field and fans start talking about what you’re doing at the other end too and lately, Clyne’s had nowhere to hide.
I’ve seen a lot of calls for youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold to be given a chance to shine – especially since he recently just nailed in a superb free kick for the Reds U23s. However, I personally believe these calls are slightly premature. Yes, he has a lot of potential and yes, when he’s played in the EFL and FA Cups this season he’s looked comfortable and confident but it’s a huge step up for him. Let’s no forget that while he didn’t bomb horribly at Old Trafford on his full Premier League debut he still required a lot of help from the midfield to shackle Anthony Martial.
Now, this doesn’t mean I would be entirely opposed to see him given a chance against a side like Bournemouth but with Manchester City and Everton the two sides up next, it’s just not yet time. The Reds are still in with a shout of top four and for me, that’s not the time for youth development. It’s the time for line-up consistency, grinding out results and tallying up the points – especially against direct rivals. If TAA get’s a game or two towards the end of the season when Liverpool’s league position is more defined then so be it but right now, Clyne is a must in the Reds starting XI.