It has been a running joke for a while now that Southampton are Liverpool’s scouting ground and B team. Any good player that the Saints produce, the Reds snatch away.
Since 2014, Liverpool have paid over £100M for five of Southampton’s players, namely Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, and most recently Sadio Mane. Childhood Liverpool fan Lambert was at Anfield for only one season, and the likes of Lallana and Lovren found their form only when Jurgen Klopp arrived.
Although Mane has been excellent, it is not a huge matter of debate that Clyne is easily the best player Liverpool have signed from the Saints so far. Yet, the player does not get half the credit he deserves.
The Reds have always had great strikers leading the line and brilliant midfielders to add that X-factor to their game, but the defence has been in shambles this century bar a few years. Even then, great centre backs like Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia have acted as walls for the club. However, the club never really had the best of full-backs.
While Manchester United and Chelsea had the likes of Gary Neville and Ashley Cole (respectively) running down the flanks and stopping wingers in their tracks, Liverpool had players like Marcus Babel and Josemi at right back. Barring Alvaro Arbeloa and the underrated Steve Finnan, the position has been an Achilles’ heel for the great club in recent years. In Clyne however, perhaps there is a solution.
Brendan Rodgers bought the right-back for £12.5 million, cheaper than any other player arriving from St.Mary’s barring Lambert. Clyne started off well under Rodgers, as he hit the ground running and adjusted to his new team immediately, wasting no time to show the Kop faithful as to what he was made of, and why he was brought in. Unlike Lallana who had a highly lacklustre first season and Lovren who was on the receiving end of a lot of hate due to his price tag and poor performances, Clyne took to Anfield like a fish to water.
What the stats say
The full-back made an astounding 52 appearances in all competitions last season. Liverpool reached the finals of two cup competitions, and played the most games out of any team in Europe’s top five leagues - Clyne featured in all but a few of them. To play 4661 minutes in your first season, under two different managers, and with the levels of consistency that the Englishman did is nothing short of brilliant.
The English international made 57 clearances last season, on top of winning 26 fouls and 63 successful tackles (in the league alone). He also created 24 chances and gave two assists in the same competition. His game was superb, with the former Southampton man being involved in the attacks from out wide as well as being highly competent in his own half.
So far this season, Clyne has created 17 chances - the most for any defender in the Premier League. He also averages more passes, committed lesser fouls, more key passes and more tackles won than fellow countryman Kyle Walker (beats Hector Bellerin in all aforementioned aspects bar passes per 90 minutes too). He is also yet to be booked this season. Overall, he’s made 19 tackles, 13 interceptions and 25 clearances so far, with a passing accuracy of 80%.
These stats give a good insight into the overall game of the right back, although they do not even begin to do justice to his positioning skills and runs off the ball. While fellow full-back Alberto Moreno has been benched for James Milner, for being too inconsistent, Clyne is one of the first names on the Liverpool team sheet.
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Key player for Liverpool
With Liverpool lacking cover for the right back position, Clyne’s presence is made that much more important. This is where his fitness level comes in – since signing for the Reds, he has not missed a game due to injury. Considering the fact that full-back is one of the most demanding positions in modern day football and that Klopp’s teams’ play high-intensity football with immense work rate required from every player, this record is amazing.
The current Liverpool squad is known more for its attacking prowess than its defensive brilliance (and for good reason). Perhaps that is why Clyne does not get as much credit as he deserves.
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The Reds have only kept two clean sheets so far in the league and are defensively frail, but that has more to do with individual errors and set piece defending than the collective weaknesses at the back, which have been exaggerated for a while now.
While Joel Matip has been a revelation and Milner is adjusting brilliantly at his new position, make no mistake that every player in the Liverpool back four is replaceable, barring the 25-year-old right back who is destined for big things if his performances continue. Phillipe Coutinho and Sadio Mane may be getting the praises, but Clyne deserves every bit of appreciation as do his skilful teammates.