After four wins from their opening four matches, it would take a catastrophe of, well, English proportions for Roy Hodgson’s men to miss out on Euro 2016. A relatively straight forward match against Lithuania on Friday should make it five from five.
Hodgson now has the luxury of building a squad for the tournament without jeapordising the qualifying campaign itself. Apart from Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney – who should be definite starters, barring injury or an inexplicable loss of form – it’s fair to say that the remaining positions are still very much up for grabs.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will be hot on the tails of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka in the race to be named at centre-back, while Ryan Mason and Michael Carrick will be hoping to stake their claim for a place in Hodgson’s midfield.
The England manager’s biggest headache, however, could be at right-back. Hodgson seems to be a big fan of Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, and many expect him to start against Lithuania.
Walker is still only twenty-four, but hasn’t featured as often as he’d have liked under Mauricio Pochettino so far this season. He has started less than half of Tottenham’s matches – just fourteen from a possible thirty – despite the fact that the Spurs manager has opted for a back four in every one of those games.
Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne on the other hand has played in all but two of The Saints’ league matches this season, and has performed well throughout. Still just twenty-three, Clyne is turning into one of the most coveted defenders in English football, with Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all reportedly interested in securing his services.
How then, do the two players compare statistically?
Well, neither player has any assists this season, but Walker does have the edge over Clyne with his ‘key passes’ average, coming out at 0.8 per game, compared to Clyne’s 0.6.
Clyne has scored two goals this season; Walker has none to his name. It is worth remembering though that Clyne has played twice the amount of games that the Tottenham player has.
Clyne averages 3.5 tackles per game compared to Walker’s 2.5. On the other hand Walker makes 2.6 interceptions per match, 20% more than Clyne. This statistic highlights the difference in styles off both defenders. While both players love a tackle – they’ve both received three yellow cards – Walker relies more on his ability to read the game and break up play.
Walker is superior to Clyne in the air this season, despite standing just three centimetres taller than the Southampton man. He wins on average 1.8 aerial battles per game, compared to Clyne’s less than impressive 0.5.
Walker also has a slightly better pass completion rate than Clyne, clocking in at just over 80%.
Perhaps the most worrying statistic for fans of Walker however, is that he is around three times more likely than Clyne to be dispossessed, and twice more likely to take a bad touch. It’s these errors that cause most concern, especially if they were to occur against the elite teams of international football.
Walker and Clyne both have the attributes to play at the highest level, with plenty of time to improve further.
Personally, I’d opt for Clyne against Lithuania, due to his superior temperament.
Roy might disagree of course, just as long as it’s not Raheem Sterling.