Connect in the back of the net

When Glen Johnson signed from Portsmouth for £17.5 million in 2009, Liverpool hoped they had finally found their answer to their right-back problems that had stretched back to 2004.

Despite the sizeable fee, Johnson was a 24 year old England international who had been named in the PFA Team of the Year for the preceding season, he was the obvious candidate to break a run of names that had failed to properly replace Jamie Carragher since he was converted to a centre-half by Rafael Benitez back in 2004.

Jan Kromkamp, Josemi and Phillp Degen are names best forgotten while Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa, admittedly solid during their spells on Merseyside, were not in the bracket of players Liverpool required to maintain pace with their rivals in the increasingly competitive Premier League.

Johnson, then seen as an astute capture as Liverpool bargained over money owed to them by Portsmouth, can now be added to the list of underwhelming right-backs at Anfield as he is cut loose six years later for free.

The man now charged with replacing him is Nathaniel Clyne whose similarities with Johnson at the time of his own move to Liverpool are striking. Clyne is 24, has broken into the England senior team and although he wasn’t named in last season’s PFA Team of the Year, he was unfortunate to miss out to Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

No other Premier League defender made more tackles than his 115 last term as he missed just 3 games of Southampton’s excellent campaign which finished with the division’s second-best defensive record and Europa League qualification.

Finishing the season having made 64 interceptions and 77 clearances, fourth best in the Southampton squad for both aspects, Clyne was the model of consistency in a back four- together with Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand- that provided the solid basis to Ronald Koeman’s superb first year on the south coast.

Speaking back in September, the Dutch manager called him “one of the best right full-backs that I’ve had in my teams during the last 15 years.”

With Koeman encouraging his natural instinct to gallop forward from full-back to add width and impetus to his free-flowing style, it was not only defensively where Clyne thrived, chipping in with 22 chances created and was Southampton’s third most frequent crosser of the ball.

“As a full-back, I like to get forward and help out in attack. If I can get assists or score goals myself, then I’ll do it. With the centre-backs covering me, I’ve got the ability to go forward,” Clyne said in an interview with Southampton’s website in September.

Clyne made 94 appearances for Southampton across 3 seasons after joining from Crystal Palace and will now hope he is afforded a similar freedom under Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, where he becomes the fourth Saints player, after Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Ricky Lambert, to join over the past year.

Hindered last season by the injury to Jon Flanagan, the declining form and fitness of Johnson as well as the struggles of Javier Manquillo on loan from Atletico Madrid, Rodgers often found himself without a right-back, having to field Lazar Markovic as a makeshift right-wing-back position in a 3-5-2 system or Emre Can in an unfamiliar right-back slot in a back four.

Such disruption and the lack of a regularly reliable full-back undermined defensive organisation and cohesion, factors that constantly undermined any attempt to summon the form needed to break back into the top 4 and came to a brutal head in the 6-1 humiliation at Stoke on the final day of the season.

Rodgers has reacted swiftly this summer, adding James Milner, Danny Ings, Adam Bogdan, Joe Gomez and the £29 million Brazilian Roberto Firmino before the beginning of July, possibly in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last summer’s late and erroneous capture of Mario Balotelli. Now they have jumped in ahead of Manchester United to bring in Clyne to continue the theme of quick, effective business designed to forge a squad capable of returning to the Champions League next season.

Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke remains a target despite a mammoth £32 million release clause and the Belgian’s powerful aerial threat partnered with Clyne’s crossing will provide Liverpool with a dangerous weapon for their armoury and one they sorely missed last term.

Clyne will bring with him a defensive discipline and energy that was also lacking last season, freeing up Can and Markovic to move into their more familiar midfield roles while ensuring the blow dealt by Jon Flanagan’s knee surgery, that will see the 22 year old out until the winter at least, will not be felt too much.

With Clyne entering his final 12 months of his contract at St Mary’s, Liverpool have managed to direct Southampton to a compromise between their original £10 million bid and the selling club’s £15m valuation.

For a high-performing young Englishman in the age of elevated premiums for home-grown talent, the £12.5 million it has taken to land Clyne will be rightfully billed as excellent business for Liverpool and Rodgers.

However, they will be hoping his career trajectory now continues upwards rather than the downwards curve that befell the now deposed Johnson and those that failed before him.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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