According to Jurgen Klopp, one of the most pleasing aspects of Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Watford was the number that Joe Gomez collected against his name. Filling in at right back, the defender — who is normally a central defender — ensured that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s absence wasn’t felt quite so acutely by assisting for Liverpool’s opening goal.
The ball was worked from left to right and Gomez, stationed close to the touchline in an advanced position, delivered a fine cross which presented Diogo Jota with his 20th goal of the campaign. The delivery was of a quality that is frequently seen on Liverpool’s right side. But that it was Gomez’s right foot providing the assist rather than Alexander-Arnold’s was rather special.
The 24-year-old has had a difficult season; this was only his second start in this Premier League campaign. Gomez was unable to rescue Liverpool’s threadbare defence last term. When both Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool’s regular centre-back paring, were sidelined for months during mid-season such was Gomez’s luck that he was also injured at the same time and missed the opportunity to stake his claim.
Since then Van Dijk and Matip have returned from their respective injuries and been irremovable from the first team. Also, Ibrahima Konate has joined the club from RB Leipzig and suddenly Gomez finds himself as fourth-choice centre back.
Therefore, his minutes this season have come mainly in the domestic cup competitions, but he was called upon here with Alexander-Arnold not quite ready to return to the starting XI despite his rapid recovery from a hamstring injury picked up against Arsenal on March 16.
Klopp confirmed that it was touch-and-go whether his normal right back would be able to face Watford, but the time to work with Gomez on the Plan B paid dividends. “It was pretty clear Joe could unfortunately train with us the whole week because he wasn’t on international duty” Klopp explained.
“But then we already knew it would be tight for Trent [to be ready]. At the beginning of the week we didn’t even know if there was a chance now we obviously saw there was a chance but because we saw Joe for the whole week we knew he would start there.”
Gomez’s assist in the 22nd minute was unsurprisingly his first of the campaign, but he could have notched a second after the interval when another whipped cross was cleared over the crossbar by Christian Kabasele before Jota could get his head to it. Apart from one stray pass that almost allowed Roy Hodgson’s side a free run at goal, Gomez did well in this uncustomary position.
He won half of his ground duels and three out of his five aerial duels. A pass accuracy of 74 per cent also highlighted that Gomez was comfortable further upfield away from the relative calm of the edge of his own penalty area where passing can be more controlled if the opponents are in a deep block, as Watford were for much of the game.
Gomez has been unlucky with injuries for large spells during his six-and-a-half years at Liverpool. It seems that just as he is building a head of steam, or an opening arises, a blow is often lurking just behind. “This season was tricky so far for him,” Klopp admitted, “who knows how these things can change. He’s obviously ready to use the opportunity when he gets it.”
What this stand-in display from Gomez also demonstrates is that Liverpool’s second string will be needed as their quest for an unprecedented quadruple reaches its climax. For instance, this was the first of eight games in April for Liverpool and the club’s wide resources will be needed to maintain the fight on all fronts.
Players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita will have roles to play as Liverpool rotate; and whereas the likes of Curtis Jones is another rotatee but with much of his career ahead of him, the former pair have just one season left on their current contracts and so greater requirement to make an impact.
Like Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita have had their struggles with injuries, but Klopp is fully aware of the quality that they possess. “We have from the bench a lot of game-changers, in the games but also when the boys started,” said Klopp of a group also containing Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi. “They never disappoint.”
Just as Gomez did against Watford, all those ‘game-changers’ should be ready to take their chances as they arise and leave their fingerprints all over what could be an historic season for the club.