It is almost hard to believe that Roy Hodgson’s first choice right-back just a year ago in Brazil was Glen Johnson. The former Liverpool, Chelsea and Portsmouth defender was a fixture for the Three Lions over the course of numerous years, even after criticism for both club and country. Now, a man has taken his place at Anfield and Wembley – former Southampton full-back Nathaniel Clyne.
Clyne has impressed during the early stages of his career on Merseyside, having made a summer switch from the South Coast side. The ex-Crystal Palace youngster has looked a natural fit, and provides a certain stability where Johnson – well, didn’t.
Modern day full-backs can tend to forget the defensive aspect of the role, but the 24-year old tracks back as stoutly as he flies forward. He has received praise from new boss Brendan Rodgers, along with fellow new arrival Joe Gomez – who has operated on the opposite flank.
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Rodgers described him as ‘top-class performer’, a solid option over the erratic Glen Johnson. His crossing ability is to be marvelled, and with Christian Benteke up front these days – a partnership is already forming.
He treads the fine line well between defence and attack. Knowing when to spring forward, he is rarely caught out of position, and despite his small stature, is strong in the challenge. Last year, he made the sixth highest number of tackles in the league.
The Reds’ defence has been notoriously leaky under Rodgers, with Johnson, Javier Manquillo and Emre Can all trying their luck in Clyne’s role. One of the heroes of the 2013-14 season, John Flanagan, has been ruled out with serious injury – and the right-back merry go round has been spinning ever since.
Roy Hodgson will be delighted in Clyne’s emergence. With Johnson now in the proverbial ‘international wilderness’, he finally has a solid option. Kyle Walker is the closest challenger, but the Spurs man has never truly kicked on since his rise to prominence a few years ago.
John Stones, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are also options, though none of the trio are truly experts in the position. With Euro 2016 on the horizon, a long term successor to Gary Neville may finally be on the cards.
Not since Neville have the Three Lions had a thoroughly dependable right-back, a role in which the Liverpool man can surely grow into. Described as ‘low maintenance’ by his club boss, Clyne has all the attributes necessary.
Should he stay away from injury, Nathaniel Clyne can finally solve a long term issue for both club and country.