By Freddie Keighley, Online Sport Editor and third year History student
The move to allow Clyne to leave for Bournemouth on loan has come under increasing scrutiny as the Reds’ defensive injuries take their toll.
A faltering title push and a loss of defensive stability has seen both fans and pundits express their frustration at the move which saw the experienced full-back leave the club for the rest of the season. This move took place as first choice right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold had just returned from injury, with fellow Englishman Joe Gomez almost at full fitness as well.
Alexander-Arnold was kept out in December by a foot injury before sustaining a knock to the knee in January. Meanwhile, Gomez - plagued by unfortunate injuries throughout his rise as promising youngster to starting defender - suffered a fractured leg in early December which required surgery after struggling to recover.
A tepid January followed. Liverpool lost their first Premier League game of the season at the beginning of the month at the Etihad, were knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves and conceded after taking the lead to draw two games 1-1 against mid-table opposition by the beginning of February.
This is a stark contrast to the commanding defensive form the Anfield side showed in the first half of the season and their 100% record against sides not in the top six, recently ended by frustrating draws against Leicester and West Ham.
Liverpool fans are searching for explanations for this dip in form, especially under the pressure of a pursuit for a first league title of the Premier League era.
Letting Clyne go has been singled-out as a major reason for letting the opportunity for a seven-point cushion at the top pass by.
"One thing that has been overlooked about his transfer is that the player asked to leave, despite knowing he was possibly only one injury away from getting his chance at a prolonged run of games in a team with aspirations of monumental success and legacy."https://t.co/Tp73iw9uLP— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) February 8, 2019
However, this is scapegoating at its finest. The loan deal made sense at the time of its agreement and Liverpool’s problems also incorporate their out-of-sorts midfielders and forwards as well as an injury-struck defence.
It is important to understand both that Liverpool’s injuries were not so severe at the time of the deal and that playing the fourth or fifth choice right-back does not hold the key to winning games.
As well as the aforementioned Alexander-Arnold and Gomez, Fabinho and James Milner were arguably both above Clyne in the pecking order of right-backs.
Fabinho has played there on multiple occasions for Brazil and Milner played the best half of a season at left-back in Klopp’s earlier days on Merseyside despite being right-footed and suiting the other side of the pitch more.
Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry on who Liverpool's key player is: "Georginio Wijnaldum. When I watch Liverpool games, he's everywhere. He works in the background, bridging the spaces between defence and midfield and has a very large impact on the Liverpool game." [Goal/DAZN] #LFC— Ronan Murphy (@swearimnotpaul) February 18, 2019
Injuries to Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson combined with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ongoing recovery has necessitated that Fabinho plays in midfield as opposed to filling in at full-back. Indeed, the Brazilian has become increasingly vital to Liverpool’s system after taking some time to adapt to the English game.
This has led to Milner and even Henderson playing at right-back against Leicester and West Ham respectively. While not naturals in this position, both players worked tirelessly on the flanks and were not responsible for the two goals conceded in those games - both came from set-pieces.
Milner even picked up the assist for Sadio Mane’s goal at the London Stadium, although he was clearly in an offside position.
Compare this to Clyne’s record this season and the clamour about his departure in pursuit of match fitness is even more bizarre. The former Southampton man has started two games this season: a 2-1 loss against Chelsea in the EFL Cup and a 3-1 win over Manchester United - the game before Jose Mourinho was sacked - in which Jesse Lingard’s goal came from a goalkeeping error after a cross came in from the left.
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Gutted to have suffered a setback in my rehab which resulted in the successful op I had today. It hurts massively not to be able to contribute towards the team on the pitch especially at a time like this... I’m doing all I can physically to come back stronger. Let’s get behind the boys tonight 🔴💪🏽
No one could have accounted for Alexander-Arnold’s injury against Brighton so shortly after Liverpool’s no. 2 left on loan, nor Gomez’s repeated setbacks and struggles in the midfield. Dejan Lovren’s ongoing muscular issues have also contributed to a loss of stability at the back and a series of sub-par performances by the Reds should not be blamed on the loaning out of a back-up full-back in much need of match sharpness.
Despite Jamie Carragher and Tim Sherwood’s recent criticisms of Clyne’s move to the south coast, Jurgen Klopp is right to defend letting him go - he could even return sharper for next season after securing the regular first team football he badly needs.
Featured image by Flickr / Kevin Walsh
Do you agree that loaning Clyne out was justifiable? Let us know your thoughts!