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 By Dave Usher

Joe Gomez seizes chance for Liverpool with Nathaniel Clyne sidelined

Glenn Price, ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent, assesses the Reds' season so far.

Earlier this week Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne was ruled out for a further three months after undergoing surgery on the back problem has sidelined him since preseason. In football, one man's misfortune is often another man's opportunity and Clyne's absence has allowed 20-year-old Joe Gomez to not only establish himself at club level, but also force his way into the international set up.

The day after the news of Clyne's surgery was announced, Gomez made his first start for England and produced a man of the match display as he helped shut down Neymar & Co. at Wembley. Yet without Clyne's injury Gomez would have been struggling for games at Liverpool and that call up against Brazil may not have come.

Liverpool are more willing to give opportunities to young players than most of their top six rivals and Gomez was not the only young Red to feature for England on Tuesday night. Striker Dominic Solanke, 20, appeared as a late substitute, a role he must now be used to having come off the bench for Liverpool nine times already this season.

While it took an injury to Clyne for Gomez to get his chance, there is no doubt that he has benefited from Jurgen Klopp's willingness to look to his young players rather than pack his squad with experienced back-ups. Klopp could easily have brought in another right-back to compete with Clyne last summer, or even the summer before.

That's what most of Liverpool's rivals would do. Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have two, sometimes even three, experienced internationals for most positions. If Klopp had gone down that route and added another right-back it would have blocked the path of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Gomez.

The FC crew discuss Nathaniel Clyne's injury setback.

Similarly, during the last transfer window there was a clamour from supporters for Liverpool to bring in another centre-half, or perhaps even two. At the very least some would have wanted Klopp to offer an olive branch to Mamadou Sakho and bring him back into the fold. Klopp resisted that and sold Sakho to Crystal Palace and did not replace him.

We can argue about whether that was the correct choice or not, but one thing that is indisputable is that Gomez has benefitted from it. While most of his starts have come at right-back, Gomez is a lot closer to a spot at centre-half than he would be if Klopp had signed someone with more experience.

It's not easy striking the right balance but Klopp appears to be doing it so far. It's unrealistic to build a team around talented youngsters as top clubs don't have the luxury of building for the future while sacrificing the present. The Manchester clubs and Chelsea have a seemingly bottomless pit of cash to throw at squad building, while Arsenal have loosened the purse strings significantly in recent seasons.

For Liverpool and Tottenham it's slightly different. They are still expected to compete while also developing players and providing them with a clear path to the first team. Spurs have brought Harry Winks through this year while Gomez is Liverpool's most successful example of giving youth a chance, and with Clyne out and Dejan Lovren in a worrying slump, he could be set for an even greater role over the coming months.

With Clyne out, Joe Gomez has stepped up and performed admirably for club and country.

Gomez has performed steadily at right-back but many would like to see him given a chance in his preferred position in the centre of defence. Lovren's woes appear to have opened up a spot there alongside Joel Matip, but to date Klopp has preferred the experienced Ragnar Klavan.

Had Clyne been available that may not have been the case. The former Southampton man has his critics and he's not the most attacking of full-backs, but defensively he's rock solid and he's very consistent. Liverpool have been plagued by defensive errors this season, some of them from the right-back spot. The kind of errors they never had to worry about from the dependable Clyne.

Some mistakes are to be expected when you are rotating between two young players who are still learning their trade. Both Gomez and Alexander-Arnold have done well and in fairness to them, they have not been caught out as much as some of their more experienced colleagues. One can't help but feel that Clyne has been missed at times though, not least because his absence may now be preventing Gomez getting a run in the centre.

Of course Klopp could still move Gomez central and bring Alexander-Arnold in at right-back, but playing two youngsters in the back four is not something you'll see too many managers doing, particularly when their team has such a poor defensive record anyway.

We might see it soon enough if Gomez keeps progressing as he has done in recent weeks and Alexander-Arnold can also kick on.

If that happens then the unfortunate Clyne, an automatic selection until his injury, might find it difficult to get back in.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.


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