Joe Gomez put in a stunning performance for Liverpool against Ajax in midweek.
Defensively alongside Fabinho, he was totally imperious as Liverpool dug out a vital win through gritty determination and resilience in the team’s defensive display.
What particularly stood out with Gomez’s performance in Amsterdam was his leadership and organisational skills to anticipate any imminent threats and snuff out the danger.
Overall, he made four interceptions, 11 clearences and won five of his defensive aerial duels as Gomez produced a timely reminder of just how important he is to this Liverpool team which was particularly timely in the aftermath of Virgil van Dijk’s long-term injury.
Deserves credit, but questions remain
Gomez, 23, has been unpicked and scrutinised by pundits since the beginning of the season following Liverpool’s shaky start defensively.
The England international has seriously struggled on few occasions this season, he was substituted in the embarrassing 7-2 defeat against Aston Villa and similarly was hooked off at half-time during the 4-0 loss at the Etihad Stadium back in July.
The key for Gomez now is much more responsibility has been placed on his shoulders which will either fuel a fight or flight response.
Having Van Dijk alongside him has often underplayed just how good Gomez has been for Liverpool over the past year as the Dutchman’s frankly ridiculous sustained brilliance has been made to look ordinary which has had a negative effect on Gomez.
In Van Dijk’s absence, Gomez immediately becomes Klopp’s most trusted and senior central defensive figure. This is a lot of pressure for a young defender still learning his craft to bare as defenders typically take longer to reach their peak – which was certainly the case with Van Dijk.
He can no longer hide in Van Dijk’s shadow nor can he rely on the 29-year-old to bail him out if needs be.
After the 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa, Klopp understandably chose to go with Joel Matip in the Merseyside derby instead of Gomez just to shake things up.
This could have fueled a negative reaction from Gomez who certainly would have been disappointed to lose his spot, but that isn’t in the nature of the player.
The key to success
One of the reasons Gomez was able to bounce back so quickly from his struggles is because of his mental strength, and an ability to shut the noise around him.
After the Villa game, pundits around the country questioned whether he was good enough to bare the defensive responsibilities required to succeed at Liverpool.
Liverpool have stuck with him and will need the former Charlton defender to step up now more than ever.
He now bears the responsibility of taking charge and leading the back-line as given Matip’s injury-record and the fact Fabinho is a midfielder, he has suddenly become Klopp’s most experienced central defensive lieutenant available to him.
Gomez is far from perfect and is only one match away from raising more questions and drawing serious scrutiny, and if he is not alive to that possibility, he will get caught out.
Without Van Dijk, Gomez knows that if his standards fall, it could be detrimental to the team’s aspirations in both the Premier League and the Champions League this season.
He will be quietly satisfied with his recent display, but also wary. He has to continue to work hard to stay at the top of his game to fill the gargantuan void left by the absence of Van Dijk as best he can.
It is impossible for any player solely to fill such a hole but if the early signs are anything to go by, Gomez has showcased he is more than capable of rising to the challenge.
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