Class of 2018/19: Joe Gomez

The Class of 2018/19 is a short series in which, ahead of the new season starting on Friday, The Anfield Talk contributors review the 2018/19 season’s of Liverpool’s squad.

Here is @1jamielyne, reviewing Joe Gomez’s season…

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Before the start of the 2018/19 Premier League season, one question many Liverpool fans were asking was who would be trusted to partner Dutch ace Virgil Van Dijk. Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip were all in contention for only one position. Jurgen Klopp’s eventual decision was to start with Joe Gomez alongside Van Dijk. This decision proved to be vital, with Gomez playing a pivotal role in the Liverpool defence’s transformation into one of Europe’s best. 

From the opening day of last season it wasn’t difficult to see the connection Van Dijk and Gomez had when it came to defending. Though Gomez’s ability and potential were never questioned since the 22-year-old’s arrival from Charlton in 2015, problems with fitness made fans question his reliability as he suffered a succession of serious layoffs. Klopp, however, clearly felt Gomez was ready to transform Liverpool’s defence so the team could begin to challenge for trophies. He was right.

Throughout the first half of last season we saw Gomez develop into one of the league’s best centre-backs. Not often does a centre-back reach the standards of PFA Player Of the Year Virgil Van Dijk, but Gomez made this a weekly occurrence. His excellent passing range and blistering pace, along with impressively composed defending for such a youngster, proved vital to Liverpool’s title challenge. Starting the season recording three consecutive clean sheets in the league, giving goalkeeper Alisson little to do, Gomez had established himself as an integral part of Liverpool’s defence and made Klopp’s team selections easy to predict.

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As the England international racked up more and more minutes next to Van Dijk, he became more confident in his abilities and improved on key attributes such as defensive positioning and long range passing. Gomez also began to bring the ball into midfield, becoming the starting point of some of Liverpool’s deadly counter attacks. On the rare occasion where Liverpool’s defensive shape was poor, Gomez showed off two of his most impressive attributes in recovery speed and tackling.

Liverpool play a high defensive line and can therefore be left exposed when teams manage to beat the press, but whenever this happened Gomez was always on hand to sprint back and cleanly dispossess the opposition. A good example of this was against Tottenham early in the season where Lucas Moura looked to be away, until Gomez came from nowhere to make an excellent tackle to deny the Brazilian and deny him a chance on goal. Another memorable moment came against Everton in the Merseyside Derby, where he made a frankly ridiculous goal line clearance following an excellent reflex save by Alisson.

During Gomez’s spell at centre back conceding a goal became a rarity in the league, as Liverpool kept 8 clean sheets in the 12 full games before he suffered a lower leg fracture in Liverpool’s 3-1 victory away to Burnley. At the time the extent of the injury was unknown, with Joe eventually waiting five months to return to the pitch. Worse, when Gomez did return he did so only as extra reinforcement when Liverpool were protecting narrow leads – Joel Matip had taken full advantage of his absence.

After a disappointing end to what was overall a promising 2018/19 season, Joe finds himself trying to regain that starting spot at CB going into 2019/20. With little game time afforded to him towards the end of last season, will Gomez be given the chance to find the form he was in before his unfortunate injury? Don’t rule him out just yet.

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