Written by: James McHale @jamesmchale2607
Early career and start to life at Liverpool
It hasn’t been easy for young Joe Gomez. The centre-back has faced setback after setback and this makes his rise to the top of English football nothing short of incredible. Before signing for Liverpool Gomez was the wonder kid of lower league football, being in and around the Charlton first team from the age of 17 and rarely looking out of place.
Things could have been a lot different for the south Londoner had he not put his head down and worked as hard as he did when his fledging career began to stutter. The young prodigy failed to make the move up to under-9 level and instead spent the year at Charlton’s development centre in Lewisham. Luckily for Gomez, and us, his hard work and raw talent shone through and he fought his way back into the youth set-up and he hasn’t looked out of place since. Gomez’s development soon accelerated further when he made his under-18 debut aged just 13 and by the age of 15 he was a regular in the older age groups of the club’s academy.
Gomez didn’t have to wait long for his big chance as he made his first-team debut against Colchester aged just 17, starting the game at right-back and playing the full 90 minutes as Charlton won 4-0. Once Gomez made the step up to senior football he didn’t look back and the young defender featured 21 times in the league for Charlton that season.
Gomez clearly did enough during his maiden campaign to impress the Premier League big boys with Liverpool eager to sign up the young prodigy, eventually securing his services for around £3.5m. Gomez was initially seen as one for the future by many around the club, despite his impressive season at Charlton, so it came as quite the surprise to see former gaffer Brendan Rodgers throw the youngster into the first-team. The gamble paid off with the centre-back starting the 15/16 season strongly before a horrific ACL injury ended his season in October, with Gomez only making 7 appearances in all competitions during his first top-flight season. The season after was hardly any better with Gomez only making 3 competitions all season, with all 3 appearances coming in the FA Cup, and that was mainly because of fitness issues and recurring injury niggles.
The breakout season
The 17/18 season saw Gomez rotate with fellow wonder kid Trent Alexander-Arnold at the right-back position, though it was well known around the club that Gomez’ future ultimately was in the centre of defence. Klopp’s decision to play Gomez on the right made sense, he’s quick, he’s strong, and he can pass well. Gomez was never flashy, but he did his job well – bar the occasional mistake – and even managed to provide 2 assists from the right.
He was a raw talent and it was easy to see his potential, but you could tell he lacked experience at the top level with his lack of concentration sometimes resulting in his hard work being undone. Despite this, he had done enough to impress Gareth Southgate and he received his first call-up to the senior England side in November 2017 and has been around the squad ever since.
His upward trajectory continued with Gomez becoming a regular feature in the Liverpool side that battled its way to the Champions League final and he was unlucky to not feature in the final, having been ruled out because of a recurring ankle injury. Not only did this cruelly prevent him from playing against Real Madrid, Gomez was also unable to play for England during last summer’s World Cup – he was tipped to be a part of the final squad and he certainly deserved to be there after a campaign that was mostly exceptional.
The improvement continues
With some in the fan base believing that Gomez would benefit from a brief move away from the club in order to build fitness and prove his worth at centre-back, it came as a slight surprise to see Gomez start the season next to Virgil van Dijk as part Liverpool’s defensive unit. Gomez, perhaps fortunate that Matip and Lovren were deemed too unfit to start the season as the Dutchman’s partner, has started the season in exceptional form and has been one of the standout defenders in the Premier League this campaign.
To put into perspective how good he has been, Gomez has a pass accuracy of 89%, only 2% behind that of Real Madrid rock Sergio Ramos, and wins an average of 3.69 more duels per game than the Spaniard with the Englishman winning 15.59 per game in the league. He doesn’t just excel in a defensive sense either with Gomez winning 2.34 offensive duels per league game too, dwarfing Ramos’ still respectable 1.65 successful offensive duels per league game – perhaps that time on the right flank did some good for him after all.
What we are seeing is Gomez develop a nastier side to his game too with him committing roughly 1 foul per league game, Liverpool players of the past have often been criticised for being too nice in the past so it’s refreshing to see one of our own not shy away from committing himself to a challenge.
The fear now is that his leg injury, sustained during our recent 4-0 win away at Bournemouth, could slow his development and this is all the more disappointing after we’ve seen for ourselves how good he really is. Gomez will miss the entirety of our congested run of fixtures over the Christmas period and is supposedly out until January 19th, though it’s too early to say for sure. What we can be sure of is his contribution to Liverpool’s stellar start to the season with Gomez being a major reason why we have only conceded 6 goals in the league in our first 16 league games, 14 less than last season. As a result of our new-found defensive solidity, Liverpool also find themselves on top of the league table, clear by one point, and 12 points better off than we were this time last campaign.
The hope was that both Matip and Lovren would rise up to the challenge and ensure that Gomez’ absence at the heart of defence wouldn’t be felt over the next 6 weeks but with Matip sustaining an injury in the dying moments of our win against Napoli, all of that pressure is now heaped upon our Croatian World Cup finalist.
What does the future hold?
It is clear for all to see that Gomez is a special player – he is the complete defender. He will be a key member of Liverpool’s first-team for some time and this belief was shared by the player when he signed a contract extension on December 11th that will keep the player at the club for 5 more years, though he will likely be here for much longer with Gomez himself saying, “I’d love to stay here for the rest of my career.” Liverpool have put their faith in the man partly responsible for getting them to where they are now and their commitment to Gomez, a player who has often struggled with fitness and injuries, speaks volumes as to how highly regarded he is by staff at the club.
It isn’t just his ability to play in the centre that makes Gomez such a valuable asset, it’s his ability and willingness to play in less familiar positions and still continue to perform at an extremely high level. Last season’s exploits shown to all around the league how effective Gomez could be at right-back and he was arguably one of the league’s best, despite the position not being his natural one. In addition to this, his maiden season highlighted his versatility with the young Englishman excelling on the left. Gomez’ versatility make him arguably Liverpool’s most valuable defender as he is able to perform at the highest across the entire backline.
It is agreed across the fan base that Gomez is the future of Liverpool’s defence and he will be a fixture in this Liverpool side for the foreseeable future. It is entirely plausible that Gomez could end his career in Merseyside and if he does, he will almost certainly go down as a Liverpool great. We fully expect to see him to be an important part of the England national team, as much as we might wish he wouldn’t be, and if he can form a partnership with John Stones that is anything reminiscent of his one at club level with Virgil van Dijk, England fans will understand why we hold our lad from Catford in such high regard.
Article by James McHale @jamesmchale2607
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