England’s trip to Alicante to take on European giants Spain did not go according to plan for Roy Hodgson, as he saw his side—unbeaten in qualifying for next summer’s European Championship—crumble against top-level opposition.
A wondergoal from Mario Gaspar and an equally brilliant finish from Santi Cazorla gave Spain the victory, with Vicente del Bosque’s side dominant for much of the evening.
Inconspicuous on the sideline was Liverpool right-back Clyne, who will have continued to wonder why Hodgson preferred Kyle Walker to him on alongside centre-back Phil Jones.
But, with Clyne’s position in the England squad a matter of uncertainty, this can only be a positive for his club side.
Spain 2-0 England
After steamrolling over Lithuania, Estonia, Switzerland, San Marino and Slovenia on their way to sealing qualification to Euro 2016, the FA arranged a pair of high-profile friendlies for Hodgson’s side, against Spain on Friday night and France on Tuesday.
“We knew it would be a surprise had we not qualified, but now we know also that in France we’ll come across better opposition and we’ll see how we deal with that,” Hodgson admitted after October’s 3-0 win away to Lithuania.
But, lining up with a 4-2-3-1 formation in Spain on Friday night, Hodgson didn’t seem prepared for the challenge ahead.
Adam Lallana was the sole representative from the Reds, with regulars James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge all injured, and the 27-year-old joined Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling in supporting lone striker Harry Kane.
Behind the attacking line, Michael Carrick and Fabian Delph paired to form a well-balanced midfield engine, while Walker, Jones, Chris Smalling and Ryan Bertrand operated ahead of Joe Hart in goal.
But lining up against a home side that featured world-class talents such as Cazorla, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique, England were outclassed.
Spain enjoyed 64 percent of possession, and it was only a matter of time before their quality in attack penetrated the England defence—though Mario was an unexpected arrival on the scoresheet.
Lallana’s limp performance was symbolic of the all-round effort from the Three Lions: the £25 million man applied himself well, but lacked the distinction to make himself any threat to Del Bosque’s side.
As Hodgson’s side trudged off at full-time, the mysteries of his team selection became increasingly frustrating.
An international friendly can be a chance to experiment with promising young talents or different systems, but the calibre of opposition at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez demanded a strong starting lineup.
Instead, Hodgson opted for somewhere in between, offering up a side wholly incapable of succeeding at an international tournament, and the 68-year-old will have learned nothing from this important litmus test.
Ignoring his strongest defensive line of Clyne, John Stones, Smalling and Bertrand was perhaps Hodgson’s most bizarre decision.
Clyne’s England Role
“Obviously I was disappointed not to play for the international team. It’s just made me more hungry to play, to push for it and try and get in the team,” Clyne said in July, after being utilised as a late substitute in England’s 3-2 win over Slovenia.
“I feel like I’m good enough and that I should be playing, so yeah I was disappointed but football’s football and hopefully when the next game comes around I will get the call-up and get some game time.”
That fact that Clyne was forced to accept that “football’s football” is alarming.
This is particularly so given Hodgson had moved Henderson into an unnatural right-back role rather than introduce Clyne earlier in the evening.
So too, was Hodgson’s response to the matter.
“We think Nathaniel Clyne is a very good player but I would be disappointed if anyone thought that, on the basis of a good season with their clubs, they can walk in and demand a place,” he claimed.
This is despite regular callups for out-of-action players like Andros Townsend and Fabian Delph, and the likes of Scott Dann and Mark Noble being overlooked despite their strong club form.
Whether Clyne’s omission in Alicante is telling or not remains to be seen, but his position in Hodgson’s starting lineup is far from cast iron.
There have even been suggestions of late that Stones could be deployed at right-back in the future, further underlining the former Reds manager’s delusion.
But while this is disappointing for Clyne, this does put Liverpool in a strong situation.
Injuries, Rest and Relaxation
Clyne is one of the most important players in Klopp’s Liverpool squad.
The £12.5 million signing is a well-balanced, physically adept right-back capable of excelling both in defence and attack, and looks to have adjusted well to the German’s tactical demands.
In Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Rubin Kazan at the beginning of the month, for example, Clyne helped the Reds to a clean sheet, but also made four key passes—the second-most of any player.
But, as his slow start to life under Klopp proved, he is susceptible to fatigue.
This stems from his status as Liverpool’s only right-back—a significant oversight of Brendan Rodgers’ reign.
So far this season, Clyne has played 1,480 minutes in a Liverpool shirt—more than any other player. He has played the full 90 minutes in all 12 of the Reds’ Premier League clashes, and started in all but one game in all competitions.
Clyne’s fitness is one of his defining qualities, but with so much game time, his standards are likely to slip.
Therefore, two weeks out of action while Hodgson perseveres with Walker and Stones would not be an unwelcome reality for the 24-year-old and his club manager.
Klopp, after all, has been vocal in criticising the FA over their treatment of Jordan Rossiter during the last international break, while season-ending injuries to Danny Ings and Joe Gomez will be fresh in his mind—as will his increasingly packed treatment room.
While Rossiter, Ings and Gomez are all replaceable within Klopp’s squad, Clyne simply is not, and as the manager is unfamiliar with a league schedule without a winter break, a rest for the right-back is paramount.
Clyne will no doubt want to start every game for his country, but for now this unstable position under Hodgson should be seen as a positive for Klopp.