With all of the excitement ramping up ahead of the new season and the new signings seemingly bedding in well, attention now turns to those who have been ‘forgotten’.
One of the men who exemplifies the term ‘forgotten’ is right-back Nathaniel Clyne. A stalwart for three full seasons, Clyne has been a solid and dependable full-back for Liverpool. In many ways, he reminds me of Steve Finnan: quiet, consistent and rarely given gushing praise.
However, Clyne faces an uphill battle to get back into the Liverpool team. His 2017/18 season was obliterated by a back injury that restricted him to cameos from April. He could only then watch as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez tried to outdo each other to make right-back their own.
So, what does this season hold for Clyne? Is his Liverpool career in serious peril?
What do the stats say?
For the purposes of this piece, I’ll be looking at Clyne’s 2016/17 performances against Alexander-Arnold, Gomez and Andy Robertson as well as a look at James Milner’s performances at left back.
The first thing that stands out is that there was absolutely no question in 16/17 that Clyne was THE right back at Liverpool. Both Alexander-Arnold and Gomez shared duties last season while Robertson only got a run in the side when Alberto Moreno got injured against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.
With that being said, the stats are showing that a fully-fit Nathaniel Clyne is a wonderfully balanced full-back. For example, Jurgen Klopp’s style of football encourages the full-backs to bomb on and create chances. In 16/17, both Milner and Clyne outshone the full-backs from last season in chances created. Clyne’s 46 chances created is almost double what Alexander-Arnold (25) and Robertson (24) created. In fairness, he lags behind Milner (58) however, this can be explained away by saying the majority of Liverpool’s attacks came from the left as Philippe Coutinho was usually deployed there.
So Clyne can offer a creative outlet for Liverpool but what about defensively? He scores well in this area too. His 61 tackles won are only just beaten by Milner’s 64 but he is streets ahead of Alexander-Arnold (25) and Robertson (14) once again. Only Joe Gomez with 44 gets close to Clyne.
Tackles lost also offers an interesting statistical comparison too. Clyne (51) is once again beaten by Milner (104) in this area but the lower number is what you are looking for here. This shows that in 16/17 Clyne was less likely to lose out in a challenge highlighting two things: first, he’s a solid defender and second, James Milner was not a natural left back.
The tackles lost scores for Alexander-Arnold (27), Gomez (38) and Robertson (34) are much better than Clyne’s. However, this comes with an asterisk surrounding games player. For example, Alexander-Arnold played nearly half as many games as Clyne and, presuming he’d continue at the same rate, he’d end up with a similar if not higher number than Clyne.
Clyne also excels when looking at total duels won. His 47.72% is second only to Joe Gomez (55.84%) which is especially impressive when you consider that Gomez is naturally a centre-back by trade. For comparison purposes, Alexander-Arnold (45.95%) and Robertson (39.39%) all score worse than Clyne in this area as does James Milner (43.42%).
So, on the whole, Nathaniel Clyne does not excel in any one area. In fact, he performs well in all areas showing that he is indeed a balanced full-back who offers Jurgen Klopp the complete package offensively and defensively.
Now, as for his future, that’s a whole other matter. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the apple of the Kop’s eye just now but is also fresh off going to the World Cup with England. Couple with an expected move for Joe Gomez to centre-back and there is definitely a chance for Clyne at Liverpool and that is something I’m personally wholly behind.
Whether he takes or is ready for that chance will be one of the most interesting talking points during the early parts of 2018/19.