Race for Right Back Spot Heats Up

Scott Heavey

Kyle Walker's status for the upcoming World Cup is in jeopardy due to injury concern. With three pairs from three different clubs, who stands to benefit in Walker's (possible) absence?

With the news that Kyle Walker 'might' miss the World Cup because of a pelvic injury, all of a sudden the competition for the right back spot is wide open again. Initially, it was Walker's to lose, he had usurped it from Glen Johnson, who will be Walker's back-up in Brazil. Now if (and it's still a big if) Walker does indeed miss out on the World Cup, Johnson will most probably be a starter. But there will be others that will compete for the right back spot, either as a back-up or possibly even to move Johnson from the starting spot. With that in mind let's assess the candidates.

Glen Johnson, Liverpool, 29

Pros : Experienced, defensively solid

Cons : Lack of crossing, injury concerns

Leading Stats : 49 passes/game (via whoscored.com)

The veteran had to deal with injuries early on this season, but he is set to be the main benefactor should Walker missed out on a World Cup spot. He definitely has the pedigree to handle a starting role, after all he was England's first choice right back in World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. Johnson is defensively solid, averaging a healthy amount of tackles and interceptions (2.3 and 1.7 per game respectively). His weakness is over on the other end, with a lack of crosses and assist chief among them. Despite that, he's a reliable performer and should get the nod to start from Roy Hodgson if Walker didn't recover in time.

Jon Flanagan, Liverpool, 21

Pros : Likes to tackle

Cons : Commits lots of foul, gets dribbled often

Leading Stats : 3.6 tackle/game (via whoscored.com)

The 21-year old went from being offered for loan to a part-time starter, due to the absence of left back Jose Enrique. He started 20 league games thus far, mainly as a left back (14 games). He has a habit of tackling, and while he averages a healthy 3.6 tackles per game, this often gets him either into committing fouls or being dribbled past by the opponent. While Flanagan has shown improvements in his game, he might do with another season of regular football and perhaps being a little more patient on defense.

Chris Smalling, Manchester United, 24

Pros : Accurate long balls

Cons : May struggle against speedy opponent, offensive contribution minimal

Leading Stats : 2.6 successful long balls/game (via whoscored.com)

By nature Smalling is probably better suited playing as a centre-back with his tall figure (194 cm) and lack of speed, however he also has some experience playing in right back. In fact from his 25 starts this season, 14 of those has come as a right back. Smalling though isn't your typical right back with speed and crossing (though he does have a high success rate on long balls), instead he's more adept at snuffing out dangers (according to squawka, his 173 clearances is highest among others here). Its very unlikely that Smalling starts, though his versatility playing both centre back and right back position will probably earn him a place in the squad.

Phil Jones, Manchester United, 22

Pros : Versatile, tidy on the ball

Cons : Commit lots of fouls

Leading Stats : 87.4% pass success rate (via whoscored.com)

Jones is also another player who's been deployed in various positions, as centre back, right back, and even as a defensive midfielder. Similar to Smalling, Jones does not contributes a lot offensively but with his natural position being that of a centre back, his defense is particularly strong though he does commits a high amount of fouls which could be costly. Jones future probably lies in the centre back position, but at the moment his ability to play as a right back will be of benefit for England and himself.

Nathaniel Clyne, Southampton, 23

Pros : Good tackler, not easy to pass

Cons : Very weak on aerial duels

Leading Stats : Four assists (via whoscored.com)

Clyne has had a challenging season thus far, with him having to share the right back spot with youngster Calum Chambers. His numbers and Chambers's is somewhat similar, with Clyne having the edge in the assist department with four. Another particular are of strength with Clyne is that he makes life difficult for those trying to pass him, with an average of being dribbled at a low 0.3 per game. Clyne is relatively inexperienced at the international level (though he has represented England at the junior levels) and based on this season overall performance might just turn Hodgson's head elsewhere.

Calum Chambers, Southampton, 19

Pros : Solid defense, young

Cons : Passing needs work, inexperienced

Leading Stats : A cross per game (via whoscored.com)

The 19-year old is enjoying his first taste of sustained first-team action, having started 18 games in the league thus far. He has coped well with Premier League football, thus far defensively he averaged 2.1 tackles, 1.7 interceptions, and 3.6 clearances. His relative weakness is his passing, with his 79.6% passing success rate putting him last among others on this list. However, with this only being his first full Premier League season it may be too soon for Hodgson to roll the dice with the inexperienced Chambers.

Verdict: Johnson starts, but what then?

Walker's absence means that Johnson will start. But then, will Hodgson call another name to be Johnson's backup or will he rely on Smalling and Jones, both of whom able to play as right back (though that does not necessarily equal excelling at the position). From the past three major tournaments, 23 defenders has been included in the squad. Hodgson will probably bring seven or eight defenders as well to Brazil. The likes of Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines are automatic inclusions. Add Glen Johnson, either one of Luke Shaw or Ashley Cole, Smalling, Steven Caulker, and Jones, that's eight defenders on board (if Kyle Walker travel then either one of Caulker, Smalling, or Jones might be left behind) which means that for the young hopefuls trio of Chambers, Clyne, and Flanagan, they will have to wait another four years for a taste of World Cup action.

Should Roy Hodgson call upon a right back specialist in the absence of Walker (other than Johnson)? Or is it enough to rely on Jones and Smalling? Share your thoughts below!

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