Southampton can be a tough club to negotiate with when attempting to snare a key player or two, and Liverpool found the valuation for a player with just one year remaining on his contract a little steep. Thankfully, a compromise has been reached for Nathaniel Clyne. A £12.5 million offer is enough to persuade Southampton to sell, with £2 million of that fee in add-ons. Liverpool are set to welcome a talented, reliable, and enterprising player.
Before the Stockwell native moved to Southampton in July 2012, he had only played Championship football with Crystal Palace where he made 137 appearances. So, after 104 appearances in the Premier League under three different managers, have Liverpool found a suitable replacement for Glen Johnson?
DOB: 5/4/91 (24) | Height: 5’9" (1.75 meters)
2014-15 Season: 41 appearances
Strengths: Sometimes a player's strengths are quite easy to assess after a few viewings, and it wouldn't be a revelation to suggest that most fans can get a general idea of what Nathaniel Clyne offers after a handful of games. Clyne is a fine athlete who is both quick and agile, with excellent recovery speed and acceleration. While the 24-year-old is not particularly tall or good in the air, he is robust and surprisingly strong. He can use his body to his advantage to protect and block the ball, which is extremely useful for full backs as their game is primarily about verticality, travelling up and down one flank. The ability to use the touchline as a means of defending is an advantage that some of the more physically weaker fullbacks cannot rely on.
The former Crystal Palace defender possesses a zeal for defending, and winning the ball is a trait that has been developed over the three seasons he's spent with the Saints. As a regular who started 34 Premier League games in 2012/13, breaking the 3000 minute barrier, Clyne made 2.8 tackles per game. Over a similar amount of starts and minutes last season, he pushed even higher with 3.3 tackles per game--only Lucas made more tackles per game on average in a Liverpool shirt during the same period. Even when the Londoner was rotated with Calum Chambers in 2013/14, 2.2 tackles per game was achieved. This is a player who made 115 tackles in the Premier League last season--more than any other defender. In fact, only the gargantuan Nemanja Matić made more tackles than Clyne in the entire league with 129. It is fair to say that this is a player who can tackle and excel in one-on-one defending.
In terms of how Clyne handles himself on the field, it must be noted how calmly competitive he is. He's not a player who gets caught up in arguments or suffers from any disciplinary issues, but has found a controlled fire in his game over the past few years. It's an effective balance to possess as a player, and ensures that the team can rely on his participation until added-on time after the 90 prescribed minutes have elapsed. Furthermore, Clyne is blessed with durability and commendable fitness, and while this may not be a traditional strength in terms of skills or tendencies, it will be of benefit to a club seeking a constant presence in an area of need.
This is a modern fullback who can carry the ball forward with ease. Liverpool fans won't have to worry about the need to drastically improve his attacking qualities; for a player who should be entering his peak years, it's more about refining areas of his game that are already effective and impressive. He is a solid fullback who makes a good number of crosses and forward passes so will be a regular outlet for building up attacks. It's good to see a player who has developed a certain approach to the game from his time as a youngster at Crystal Palace, and it has been quite effective at domestic and international level.
Weaknesses: As touched on earlier, Clyne isn't that great in the air. There isn't the expectation for a fullback at Liverpool to dominate aerial duels, but it is useful especially as Liverpool struggle to defend set-pieces. Having a taller fullback who can help the centre backs could be part of a stingier defensive unit, one that can confidently repel balls lobbed into the box. Southampton journalist Gordon Simpson told the Liverpool Echo that the player's form "faded a bit" in the second half of the season after "an outstanding first half" so that may be something to keep an eye on.
In my opinion, Clyne could improve his short passing a little more. He will be playing for Liverpool and featuring regularly for the national team so it would be wise for him to improve that part of his game as he turns 25 in October. His passing is decent, though, and Clyne possesses good technique for pushing the ball forward for quick one-twos and short passes to a nearby player. He seems a little less technically gifted than Glen Johnson, perhaps less creative too. It may not be fair to make a direct comparison, but this is Glen Johnson's replacement after all.
There can be improvements made in his consistency, and while contract issues or the rise of a youngster may have either reduced his effectiveness or minutes, that won't be acceptable at Liverpool. Nathaniel Clyne is being brought in as a starting player who must continue to show what he has done for Crystal Palace, Southampton, and the England national team: he can step up to a higher level.
Summation: In short, Liverpool have secured a player who is extremely comfortable in taking on opponents on and off the ball in conjunction with consistent defending. Liverpool have missed that reliability from the right back spot since Glen Johnson's form dipped quite drastically over the last couple of years. It's easy to forget how excellent Glen Johnson was when he first arrived at the club in June 2009. The form he showed in the 2009/10 season was excellent, and the Reds signed a quality 24-year-old right back who was entering his prime... Liverpool have repeated the trick with Nathaniel Clyne.
Simply put, the right back position has been solved for the foreseeable future.