Liverpool’s Champions League defence continues at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Tuesday night as Jurgen Klopp prepares to do battle with one of Europe’s great managerial minds in the form of Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.
The European champions will put aside their Premier League pursuit for one evening with the Reds now firmly setting their sights on a third consecutive European Cup final in Istanbul come May.
It’s a particularly defining match for Joe Gomez for many reasons as the England international looks to maintain his place as Virgil van Dijk’s long-term defensive partner.
The 22-year-old is set to start alongside the big Dutchman in a Champions League knockout match in his preferred central defensive role for the first time since his £3.5m [BBC Sport] move from Charlton Athletic in 2015.
Gomez has missed two Champions League finals due to long-term injuries with both his fellow central defensive counterparts Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren usurping the Englishman in Klopp’s hirearchy the 2018 and 2019 finals.
Remarkably Gomez has only ever started in one of Klopp’s 10 two-legged knockout victories when the England international featured at right-back in the 3-0 defeat at the Camp Nou back in May 2019.
It was Gomez’ first Liverpool start following a fractured leg sustained against Burnley in December 2018 after a clash with Ben Mee. It was by no means a poor performance from the Reds defender but the lack of creativity with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench was stark to see and resulted in Gomez not starting another match for the rest of the season.
However, Gomez has since been an ever-present figure after being reinstated as Van Dijk’s apprentice in the English champins-elect’s impenetrable defensive unit back in December. In the last 11 matches, Gomez has started alongside the UEFA Player of the Year, Liverpool have conceded just one goal and have registered 10 clean sheets.
In the Reds previous 990 English top-flight minutes, Liverpool have allowed only Wolves’ Raul Jimenez to find the back of the net.
Gomez’s maturity in the last few months has developed leaps and bounds alongside the player he labels as ‘my big brother’ and it has been paramount in Liverpool all-but ending their 30-year wait for a Premier League title.
Liverpool’s irreplaceable defensive duo have proven they possess the skills to establish a partnership that could have a longevity well beyond the next five seasons.
Whilst Atletico certainly oppose a threat to the Reds’ Champions League status, from goalkeeper to striker have become an all-but unstoppable force.