Consistency personified: Why Nathaniel Clyne is a vital part of the Liverpool lineup - by Jason Harris
When a Footballer gets described as underrated, in their mind there is bound to be some mixed emotions. It sure is better than the direct alternative, but the word feels a bit like faint praise e.g. ‘Yeah you are a decent player but not really at the top level.’
A better word to describe this kind of player is Consistent. That is a category that Nathaniel Clyne fits into comfortably.
The Right-back came to the club in the Summer of 2015 with a growing reputation in the game but despite this, there were some question marks over his signing.
It had nothing to do with his overall ability and everything to do with the ‘Stigma of Southampton’.
The previous 12 months saw the club spend an awful lot of money on the Saints trio of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert. It is fair to say that their first season for the Reds was below the required standard.
So for that reason there was understandably a fair bit of trepidation amongst the fan base when it was announced that the club were heading back to the South Coast club to buy another one of their players.
While Footballers often say that they do not pay attention to the media and all the outside noise, it is human nature to be drawn in to what might be written about you, or those that you classify as friends.
Clyne would have been well aware of what occurred the season prior, and that the Anfield spotlight would now be directed in his direction. The main question was whether he would be able to perform to his best level.
In many ways the signing felt like the perfect fit, mostly because the Right-back position was a spot in the starting lineup that needed filling after the departure of Glen Johnson to Stoke.
The position has been one of solidarity for Liverpool over the past 15 years or so with Jamie Carragher, Markus Babbel, Steve Finnan and Johnson filling the role with various levels of success.
Of that quartet, Johnson was the player who divided opinion the most among the supporters. While he won many fans in the way he was able to turn defence into attack with his surging runs, his failure to track back and fulfill his defensive duties grew more common and costly for the team.
From the moment the Crystal Palace junior took the pitch for his new team, you could tell he was a different type of defender to Johnson.
While displaying a good level of attacking flair, Clyne recognized that defending was his main role in the side, and went about his duties in a steady fashion at the start of last season.
It was when Jurgen Klopp took over the managerial reign from Brendan Rodgers that we saw Clyne’s performance go up a notch or two.
He starred in the big Europa League fixtures at Anfield against Manchester United and Villarreal proving he is a player that does not shy away from the big moments.
This season has seen the 25 year-old raise his consistency to another level.
Clyne is the only Reds player (and one of just 14 players in the league) to play every minute of League action this season, and is yet to pick up a booking (committing just seven fouls all season). This is a key indicator of his defensive intelligence as he very rarely gets caught out of position.
He is ranked second at the club behind Jordan Henderson for tackles this season (48) and averages one interception and a little under two clearances a game.
Despite registering just the two assists for the season so far, Clyne is widely seen as the most creative defender in the league. He has set up the highest number of goal scoring opportunities (30) while also successfully playing the most balls into the attacking third of the pitch for a defender.
While those stats may not jump up and excite the general Reds supporter like a piece of Philippe Coutinho or Sadio Mane brilliance would do, what it does highlight is the type of player that Clyne is.
He is able to strike the perfect balance between defence and attack and in general you know what you are going to get from Clyne every time he steps onto the pitch, which is a fully committed performance. In many ways the English international is the kind of dependable figure that Steve Finnan was for the Reds in the mid 2000s.
Clyne will also play an important nurturing role with the emergence of the exciting Trent Alexander-Arnold as his understudy for the Right-Back position. The 18 year-old seems just the type of player that would soak up any advice that comes his way, and despite only being seven years his senior, Clyne will have plenty of important advice to pass on to the youngster.
To be a successful side you need a consistent performance from every player in the squad. While Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester have had two or three players who have stolen the headlines on their way to securing their title success over the past three years, often it has been the efforts of players like Pablo Zabaleta, Cesar Azpilicueta and Christian Fuchs who have played just as vital a role to their club lifting the Premier League trophy.
Nathaniel Clyne may not be the first Liverpool player mentioned when the pundits talk about match winners. However his level of importance to the team and his continued consistent performances cannot be understated as we enter the all important second half of the season.