After years of Glen Johnson being slaughtered by Liverpool fans on social media for his performances, they finally got they wanted in last summer’s transfer window. Johnson moved to Stoke City and in came Nathaniel Clyne who is solid since he joined.
On Tuesday night in the EFL Cup quarter final vs Leeds Liverpool fans were introduced to what may be the club’s right back in the post-Clyne era. 18 years old Trent Alexander Arnold was with the Liverpool system since the age of 6. His performance vs Leeds was mature and he helped the reds break the deadlock by delivering a superb cross for Divock Origi to tap in, and winning the man of the match says it all.
While the future looks bright for young Arnold who in the previous cup round vs Spurs put in a solid performance and didn’t settle for a handshake from his manager and went straight into a Klopp hug, the previous academy starlets in that position didn’t end up where they were expected.
In 2009/2010 alongside the signing if Glen Johnson for a fee of 17.4M GBP (transfermarkt), the cover for the Right Back position was young Martin Kelly. Kelly recorded that season 12 Premier League appearances. A year after, Kelly continued to establish himself by playing 23 times in all competitions, limited only be a couple of injuries.
The 2011/12 season saw Liverpool’s two senior right-backs battle each other out with one benefiting from the other’s injuries. Kelly played 20 matches in all competitions and Johnson played 29 in all competitions. Managerial changes didn’t affect the two competing right backs. When Brendan Rodgers came in in the 2012/13 there were no additions in that position.
Sadly, that campaign was the start of Martin Kelly’s decline. A cruciate knee ligaments injury away to Norwich at the end of September that season ruled out Kelly for the rest of the season and Johnson established himself as the first-choice right back.
The fact that Liverpool were without European competition in the 2013/14 season resulted in the club not investing heavily in the transfer market. Kelly’s recovery throughout this campaign left the stage available for Jon Flanagan to step up which is exactly what he did. 27 appearances in all competitions made him pivotal in Liverpool’s title charge and he even proved his ability to adapt when he was used as a left back in the last 8 matches in the campaign. Glen Johnson continued to prove his role in the squad by playing 30 matches in all competitions.
Unfortunately, the 2014/15 campaign saw Liverpool without their two academy graduates. Kelly was sold to Crystal Palace and Flanagan’s rise and development were brought to an end when he suffered a knee injury in July 2014 causing him to miss the entire 2014/15 season. Javier Manquillo was brought in on loan but with not great effect. In addition, that season was a season of experiments in Liverpool’s formation which saw them play usually with three at back. Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic were tested in a makeshift right wing back position.
All of this brings us to the 2015/16 season which saw Nathaniel Clyne grab the right back position immediately and Johnson eventually leaving. Clyne was ever-present for Liverpool last season and featured in 52 matches out of Liverpool’s 63 in total. The only cover for Clyne was young Connor Randall who took part in 7 senior appearances for the club and displayed solid performances.
Flanagan returned back from his lengthy recovery but was introduced back cautiously although he did captain the Liverpool side who lost 3-2 away to Southampton in the league. This fact brought hope to Liverpool fans that Flanno still has a future with the club.
It was expected that Liverpool would’ve delved into the transfer market to reinforce its cover for the right back position but clearly, Klopp knew what he has in stock. While cries from Liverpool fans to sign a left back in place of Alberto Moreno were left to echo, the utilisation of James Milner in that position proves to be spot on.
As for the right back situation, Clyne staying fit is a huge factor, especially when Liverpool aren’t competing in Europe this season. The hopes of Flanagan returning to the side were quashed when he moved on loan to Burnley. Connor Randall is yet to feature this season although he did make the bench on a single occasion.
And then, there’s Arnold. The young right back proved in the two games he played that he has great potential within him and can provide adequate cover for Clyne when needed. Certainly, being a local boy adds to the crowd’s fondness for him.
Jamie Carragher once said: “No one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville” referring to the fact that most wing backs are either failed wingers or failed centre backs. One can only hope that performances such as Clyne’s and maybe Arnold’s in the future will change that.