Jack Hallows reviews Nathaniel Clyne’s 2016/17 season and highlights the areas the right back still needs to improve despite being a picture of consistency for much of the season.
I never thought I’d be saying this around this time last year but Nathaniel Clyne has become a surprisingly divisive player.
A picture of consistency
Despite a fairly erratic start to the season, Nathaniel Clyne was once again a picture of consistency for the Reds. He was probably the easiest player in the squad for me to assess when it came to player ratings each week as he would simply put in a 6.5-7/10 performance, ranking higher or lower in only the occasional game.
In fact, having a quick look back at the player ratings revealed that Clyne registered just the one 8/10 performance in his last 14 appearances – a stellar showing against Spurs at Anfield earned him this – but conversely you had to go all the way back to the 3-2 home loss to Swansea when he played with a rib injury to find an instance of him dipping below a 6.
Clyne is also a superb example of consistency through fitness as well. The right back barely missed a game this season, playing every minute of Premier League football aside from the trip to Old Trafford in January. In an ever-changing back four, Clyne was able to push through niggles and ensure he was available whenever he was called upon.
Solid but unspectacular
However, despite being an ever-present, Clyne only managed to contribute three assists all season. His low cross for Coutinho on the opening day at Arsenal was followed by a gorgeous ball onto the head of Firmino at Burton just 10 days later and seemed to be a signal of great things to come.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the case. Clyne’s next assist had to wait until December when the Reds visited Middlesbrough and he didn’t manage to register another one all season. He also ended the campaign as the only outfield, first-team player not to get on the scoresheet.
Interestingly, despite a seeming lack of end product, Clyne ended the 2016/17 season as Liverpool’s fourth most creative player in the Premier League having provided 45 total key passes for his teammates. This put him behind only Firmino (76), Coutinho (65) and Milner (56).
However, it can be argued that perhaps the quality of the chances he created simply wasn’t as good as those provided by the likes of Gini Wijnaldum (45), Sadio Mané (43) and Adam Lallana (42) who all finished behind him but ended up with more assists.
If Clyne is to continue as Liverpool’s long-term right back, he’s got to improve in the final third. In another team he would be seen universally as one of the top players – such is his defensive solidity – but when Liverpool’s attacking width is so reliant on their full backs, two assists simply isn’t enough.
Take his competition for an England place Kyle Walker for example. Tottenham play a very similar style of football, with much of their width provided by the overlap of both Walker and Rose. Walker, despite making fewer appearances – 32 starts, two bench appearances – managed to register five assists for teammates and created just as many chances per 90 as Clyne.
Some might argue that the Spurs full back sacrifices defensive solidarity in order to provide more fuel to his side’s attacking fire but his 1.76 successful tackles per 90 is just 0.04 less than Clyne’s while his blocks, interceptions and clearances were all higher.
Of course, Walker does have solid competition waiting in the wings in the form of Kieran Trippier. While Alexander-Arnold will be a good option in the future, Clyne currently is comfortable in the knowledge that no one in this squad can ‘usurp’ him as Klopp’s go to right back. Perhaps with a more competitive understudy vying for his position, we might see him up his game to secure his spot.
No one is doubting that Clyne is a good fullback but improvements are definitely needed for him to be the player that Klopp requires. His solidarity has been a welcome change from the paper over the cracks style of defender we’ve had at full back in previous years but until he improves his game going forward, then there will always be people calling for him to be replaced.