After the Merseyside derby, Liverpool were left with a massive hole in their defense, and a multitude of questions for how to fill it. Virgil van Dijk, the best defender in the world, was out for at least the majority, if not all, of the season, and Joel Matip was yet again hobbled by a knock.
Joe Gomez was the only first team center back, and he had been on a run of torrid form. Jurgen Klopp had no option but to throw Gomez back out there and hope he could regain the level of play that had lead to his lock-down defensive partnership with van Dijk from the last two seasons.
Gomez has quietly stepped in and stepped up the level of his play. Not only has the 23 year old been tasked with taking over the role as the defensive leader and organizer, but he has had to do it with three different players. Two of those players, Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips, earned their Liverpool debuts alongside Gomez, making the task all the more impressive. The third player is converted holding midfielder, Fabinho prior to his own injury.
“Joe in particular has had to step up in recent weeks and he has grasped it in such an impressive manner,” said Liverpool’s manager, Jurgen Klopp.
“Joe is young in years but has a wealth of experience. He knows how important he is to us in general, but in this moment showing his best qualities on and off the pitch is so valuable.”
Gomez has not only had to take on a leadership role, he has had to change how he plays the game. Previously, he had been able to let Virgil van Dijk play on the front foot, stepping up to attack the ball while Gomez covered behind with his stellar speed to mop up anything that leaked through. For now, Gomez has had to shift to the left side of the defensive pairing, and is now tasked with being more aggressive attacking the ball in the air. He is averaging 7 aerial duels per 90 minutes in the league this season, winning almost 4 (6.5 duels int he Champions League, winning a stunning 6). He’s also involved with 4.5 clearances per 90 minutes, well up from his numbers in previous seasons.
“I love that he sees what we need from him and that he relishes this opportunity,” said Klopp. “Sacrificing for the team has never been more critical and in Joe Gomez and all of our players we have men who embrace it and inspire us all with their approach.”