Joe Gomez has been a Liverpool player for two-and-a-half years now. After impressing many early on with his defensively imposing displays, he was sidelined with two lengthy injuries – first, a cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out for the remainder of the 2015/16 campaign, before another setback in July last year as he suffered an Achilles tendon issue.
Recovery and progression
Having sustained such pain and frustration at a crucial stage in his development, it’s fair to say that 2017 has been an important year for Joe’s progression. Regular minutes with the under-23s helped him improve match sharpness going into the summer months, while he impressed during Liverpool’s pre-season campaign and his versatile nature has meant he’s playing at right-back more often than not.
With that being said, it’s not his preferred position. Slotting in seamlessly during Nathaniel Clyne’s absence, he’s predominantly a centre-back, and one with all the physical attributes and potential to develop into a world-class defender in a few years time. The only thing that he doesn’t possess, is adequate experience over a sustained period – which he would have earned by now if not for two lengthy injury spells on the sidelines.
It speaks volumes that after such setbacks, Gomez has not let that dictate his future. Instead, he has embraced the challenge of returning stronger, proved his ability to Jurgen Klopp and warranted a starting berth.
However, it’s now time for the German to treat him as what he really is – a prized asset. Aidy Boothroyd gave the Catford-born youngster the England u21 captaincy in August, which might not seem like much, but is a sign of recognition for his development.
Having had a long-term injury, coming through that and then getting back into the Liverpool first-team says a bit about him, I think. He’s just one of those blokes who you think ‘I could be in the trenches with you’ and he’s well respected in the group, so he would be the one. – Boothroyd on Gomez
Senior bow and centre-back options
It’s deserved and comes as no surprise that just three months later, he was making his senior England debut under Gareth Southgate – who also granted him his first U21 appearance at 18-years-old. Two successive clean sheets against Germany and Brazil during their international friendlies last month would have provided him with confidence no doubt, especially having marshalled PSG superstar Neymar to a quiet evening at Wembley.
For all of Liverpool’s defensive issues, Gomez represents a refreshing change from the frustrating, accident-prone normality that continues to haunt them. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius both have been heavily criticised for their goalkeeping displays, while the centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan simply is not reliable enough to be a regular option.
Joel Matip has experience and a towering presence to boot, but his lack of mobility means he’s often a target for quick opposition attackers to exploit. So perhaps it’s not that surprising the Reds were willing to part with an eye-watering £75m – the all-time highest transfer fee for a defender – to sign Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk this week.
He, just like Gomez, is athletic and has plenty of attributes that could combine alongside the youngster to build a fearsome duo in defence. Easy on the eye and equally comfortable in possession, he ultimately will not solve all their problems but can go some way to helping strengthen their backline.
Gomez himself is by no means perfect, but has shown enough defensive quality to justify starting alongside van Dijk in central defence. This would give Trent Alexander-Arnold the opportunity to prove his worth without having to sacrifice one of the two youngsters for a place on the substitutes’ bench every week.
Of all the central defenders mentioned, Gomez is the youngest by a considerable margin. He’s still only 20-years-old and Liverpool need to embrace his youth by granting him a chance to become a mainstay in his favoured role as they hold genuine aspirations to compete at the top in future.