This week Nathaniel Clyne returned to training after recovering from an injury that had kept him out all season, since his arrival in 2015 Clyne has been Liverpool’s first choice right back but his absence has allowed Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold to flourish for the first team in that role meaning that Clyne comes back into the fold as the team’s third choice right back. Clyne’s age and experience means that if he can get back to the level he was at pre-injury he will more than likely start games again for Liverpool, leaving Jurgen Klopp with a big choice to make in terms of who makes his matchday squad each week. Even the best teams with the biggest squad depth don’t have three first choice right backs; so, what happens with Gomez and Alexander-Arnold?
This is all a hypothetical working on the basis that Clyne does get back to his old best, there’s just as much chance that he struggles upon returning and is moved on in the summer due to the strong options that we already have in his position. If he wants to get back into the first team then its currently Joe Gomez that he needs to oust, the 20-year-old has fully made that position his own this season and whilst there have been a few shaky moments his performances have him firmly in contention for a World Cup spot. There will be a lot of calls to see Gomez start at centre back next to Van Dijk but with the recent upturn in performances of Lovren and Matip it would be hard for Gomez to break in there, and I don’t think he’s got the quality to be a starting centre half in a back four for Liverpool yet. In the Final Word show for the Porto game, we spoke about the three at the back formation Liverpool have been switching to recently and Emma asked me if it was a viable option going forward, at the time I didn’t think it could work at Liverpool but giving it more thought if Clyne is now an option a back three with Gomez could work very well. If you tried it with Alexander-Arnold at right wing back then the right side of our defence would look very inexperienced but Clyne fixes that, we’ve also already seen Gomez put in a very good performance in that position for England and his time playing at right back means that he would have no problem with being isolated against a winger, it would work in a very similar way to Chelsea where they have a former wing back as a right sided centre back with Azpilicueta.
More realistically, it would be Trent Alexander-Arnold that would see his playing time even more limited. He’s already second choice behind Gomez and with him being the youngest he can always go back to playing in the development squad just like we saw with Ben Woodburn. It’s important to remember how early on his career TAA is, his performances have shown so much maturity that you forget he’s only 19. Whilst he would be disappointed and it could be seen as a step backwards its all just a part of the player’s development and he will still find first team chances with the amount of competitions we will be in. I don’t think a loan would be a good idea, if he goes to the wrong team and ends up in a toxic dressing room fighting in a relegation battle it could destroy the confidence that he’s built up over the course of the season, his versatility will help Liverpool and his first team chances; he’s established himself at right back but is more than capable of playing further forward as a midfielder. We already lost a midfield option in Coutinho and its looking likely we’ll lose Can too, with Naby Keita coming in as a starter Klopp might see Alexander-Arnold as a sufficient squad player in the midfield.
Out of all the different scenarios that we explored the idea of the three at the back is the one that excites me the most, Klopp has been very faithful towards the 4-3-3 and whilst it works really well with the pressing we do also have the personnel for a 3-4-3. A big criticism of Klopp’s 4-3-3 is that we don’t have a number 6 who does enough to protect the defence, playing three defenders at the back solves this and leaves two midfielders who can go from box to box. It also doesn’t mess with the front three; Klopp already encourages his wing backs to overlap the wingers and provide the extra width, having three centre backs just means extra cover is provided for them should they push up. Again, taking Chelsea as an example, the left sided player of the three sees a lot of the ball. For us this would be Van Dijk and we’ve already seen examples of his incredible passing range, he could really do some damage from the back. Chelsea also tend to stick their weakest defender in the centre of the three, this is where we can use Lovren or Matip; with cover on either side they have less defence responsibilities and benefit from this as a result.
Again, this is all hypothetical and who knows what goes through the mind of Jurgen Klopp. The back three might have just been used to see out a game but the thought of how that could be developed is something to think about, it will be a while before we see what level Clyne is coming back at but if he’s back to 100% then I won’t tell anyone you stole my idea Jurgen.
Article by Louis Connor
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