I took an in-depth look at Roberto Firmino (here) last Monday; now Liverpool’s new £12.5m right-back comes under the Bass Tuned To Red microscope. The former Southampton player (and there’s a heavily used phrase on Liverpool blogs these days) may not necessarily have impressive raw numbers, but factoring in location yields some interesting results.
In this article, when I refer to Clyne’s ‘rank’, I’m talking about how he fares compared to the twenty-eight other full-backs (on either side of the pitch) who played at least nineteen games in the 2014/15 Premier League, and I am ranking the stats on a ‘per ninety minutes played’ basis.
Let’s start with shots, as there’s not much to report; Clyne managed just nineteen in his thirty-five appearances. That said, he was ranked joint seventh for total shots (albeit only sixteenth for accuracy), and five of the six players above him averaged more per game from set pieces and/or penalties than he did too.
At first it looked like he might be a dead-eye in the penalty box, scoring with his first two shots (including memorably at Anfield on the opening weekend), though inevitably his hit rate cooled, as all six of his other shots in the area were blocked or off target.
In truth, shots info is neither here nor there for a full back, as they’ll almost always have a small body of work to call upon, so let’s move on to creativity. This is where the positional info I mentioned starts to play a part.
In raw terms, Clyne was only ranked eighteenth for chances created (though none of his were from set-pieces), but I’ve looked at the locations of his chances (and factored my expected assists system in) and compared to his new Liverpool teammates he fares pretty well. Here are the figures for last season.
Although Clyne didn’t create many chances (with fifteen Liverpool players topping his 0.6 chance per ninety minutes average in 2014/15), when he did fashion a goalscoring opportunity, it was often received by a team mate in the centre of the box. This is reflected in his relatively high Average Chance Quality score above, where 0 would be all key passes received outside the final third, and 10 all in the centre of the box.
It should be noted that around a third of the chances he created came via crossing the ball, which isn’t currently a predominant feature of Liverpool’s tactics, but equally I think he was unlucky not to get any assists last year based on where he was teeing up his fellow Saints. I guess it’s the same issue that lead Stewart Downing to register zero assists in his debut campaign for the Reds; crosses are always received in good areas, but aren’t always easy to score from.
There is another related factor in his credit here, which makes up somewhat for his relative lack of chance creation; he appears to be a very tidy passer in the final third.
From looking at the stats, I think he’s a good recycler in tight spaces up top, and so facilitates chance creation even if he isn’t doing it that often himself. In fourteen of his thirty-five appearances he was in Southampton’s top three players for completed final third passes, and he topped their rankings three times.
By comparison, a Liverpool full back was in the Reds’ top three final third passers eight times in 2014/15 (Moreno managed it on four occasions, with one each for Sterling, Ibe, Johnson and Manquillo) and even then some of those players were wingbacks ahead of a back three, rather than taking a wide position in a flat back four.
Of course, you could rightly argue that you’d rather have your more creative players playing the most final third passes (it was usually three from Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Coutinho for Liverpool last season) but I think the figures suggest that Clyne can provide decent support in the final third, if not necessarily creating much of note himself.
It’s a similar story for completed dribbles, where although he logged fewer per ninety minutes than twelve Liverpool players managed to, he was ranked ninth among Premier League fullbacks. When Clyne went past an opponent with the ball, it was often (70% of the time) in the final third. This is clearly more likely to lead to something dangerous happening as opposed to being a full back who complete a lot of dribbles by ghosting past wingers near their own eighteen yard line.
Defensive stats are notoriously difficult to use for analysis, but let’s have a look at what Clyne’s numbers tell us anyway.
His real strength appears to be tackling. His average of 3.3 per ninety minutes was only bettered by two Premier League full-backs, and by only eighteen top flight players full stop (and most of those were central/defensive midfielders, so that’s what you’d expect). What I liked from looking at Clyne’s tackle stats up close was that he was not always making lots of tackles in the obvious ‘backs to the wall’ games you might expect.
Top tacklers average around four per game; Clyne made eight tackles when Southampton demolished Sunderland 8-0! His personal best tackle count was nine, and that came in an equally unglamorous game at Hull City. It’s important to consider that Saints had 53% possession in both of the games mentioned here too, so there won’t have been as many opportunities to tackles as in some of their other matches. It also worth noting that he made five tackles in the Southampton penalty box too (including two at Anfield), and whilst I unfortunately have no idea if this figure is high or not, it’s certainly not a bad skill for a full back to have.
Clyne also appears to be decent at blocking crosses, as he managed to do so every 143 minutes last season. As this tweet from summer 2014 shows, that appears to be both a pretty decent rate and something that Brendan Rodgers covets in his full backs.
As can often be the case, a physical approach through tackling can perhaps lead to fewer interceptions, and that seems to be the case with Clyne. The former Southampton man ranked sixteenth last season, and here’s how he fared against some names you’ll recognise (though please note the figures for the other players aside from Clyne in the next two tables are for the 2013/14 season; I’d love to have time to update them, but sadly I don’t).
We can see here that as well as not intercepting opposition passes as often as some, he also had a high percentage of them in his own defensive third. Thankfully, the picture for ball recoveries is far rosier for Clyne, and perhaps indicates another reason why Rodgers was keen to win his signature:
Notice how Clyne wins the ball outside the defensive third a higher proportion of the time than anyone else on the list managed too. An interesting quirk is that eleven final third recoveries is the same amount as Daniel Sturridge managed in the whole of the 2013/14 season.
Overall, I would say it’s a pretty encouraging picture numbers-wise, and this case study provides a good example of why the raw numbers alone don’t tell you enough about a player; it’s not just how often they do something, but where on the pitch they do it. Welcome to Liverpool, Nathaniel.