Opinion: Liverpool defender Joe Gomez and the Anfield pecking order

It seemed Liverpool had unearthed a gem two years ago in Joe Gomez, one of the last hurrahs of Brendan Rodgers' reign. Yet after serious injury, can Gomez reclaim a starring role in Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool side?

Opinion: Liverpool defender Joe Gomez and the Anfield pecking order
(Picture: Getty Images)

After the 6-1 hammering at the hands of Stoke City to end the 2014/15 campaign, and the poor start to the following season, Brendan Rodgers was a dead man walking as Liverpool manager.

However, despite his ill-fated last six months in charge at Anfield, in the summer of 2015 he produced arguably his best transfer window at the club, alongside January 2013 (when Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho arrived from Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively).

James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne were signed for peanuts (which equates to around £12 million), Roberto Firmino has become integral under Jürgen Klopp, Danny Ings could yet prove himself in his latest comeback from injury, while Christian Benteke was not a bad signing – proved by Liverpool’s ability to effectively recoup the entire transfer fee – but did not suit either Rodgers’ or Klopp’s style of play.

Injury holds Gomez back

One other player signed during that summer was Joe Gomez, brought in for around £3.5 million from Charlton Athletic. Gomez was an 18-year-old prodigy when Rodgers signed him, capturing interest from rival Premier League clubs. Yet ultimately he was not well-known, and personally Gomez’s arrival brought to mind comparisons with Danny Wilson, a similar youth prospect who arrived for a small fee during Roy Hodgson’s disastrous and brief reign.

However, Gomez immediately hit the ground running in a Liverpool shirt, pushing aside any thoughts of a loan move to the likes of Derby County. Instead, Gomez added to Rodgers’ reputation of succeeding with young players, following in the footsteps of Raheem Sterling, Jordon Ibe and even Coutinho and Sturridge.

Deployed at left-back, Gomez excelled as part of Liverpool’s initial defensive success, and remained a standout player even as results began to turn against Rodgers and the Reds. Gomez appeared to have a bright future under the incoming Klopp, as Alberto Moreno continued to struggle with injuries and adjusting to English football.

Yet soon after Klopp arrived at Anfield, Gomez suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury while on international duty with the England Under-21s. After twelve entire months of rehab and recovery, Gomez returned to first-team training last October but only made three appearances during the remainder of the season, all in the FA Cup.

In reality, Gomez remains on the comeback trail. However, now, at 20, he is fit and ready for his first full pre-season under Klopp, which will decide whether he can prove to Klopp that his potential still remains and that he can become a key member of Liverpool’s defensive set-up moving forward.

However much he impresses, Gomez’s chances of an immediate return to the first-team are remote, even in the left-back position he initially played when he arrived at Anfield.

Moreno is now on his way out, with Milner favoured by Klopp in the position, while Hull City’s Andrew Robertson could be arriving to compete with Liverpool’s vice-captain.

Gomez can also play at right-back, but again he faces tough competition, with Clyne the dependable first choice option and talented youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold breathing down his neck behind him.

 

Opportunity in the middle of defence

Gomez’s primary position is at the heart of the defence, where he has so far featured in his brief appearances under Klopp, and centre-back may well present his best chance of first-team minutes this season.

All top teams who have ambitions of contending on multiple fronts, involved in European competition, need to have at least four centre-backs to choose from. Currently, Gomez could begin the season as high as third-choice, despite barely playing in the last two years.

Last season, Klopp had Joël Matip, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Lucas Leiva to choose from, and upgrades were clearly needed this summer. Whilst Klopp remains on the hunt for another centre-back, Gomez certainly has the opportunity to progress with the Reds, more so than most of those on the fringes of the squad.

Lucas appears set to leave Anfield after a decade as a fantastic servant and player for Liverpool, with Lazio reportedly keen to bring the Brazilian to Italy.

At top fitness and form, Gomez is a superior alternative than squad player Klavan for the current top duo of Matip and Lovren, who themselves regularly pick up injuries.

Meanwhile, Virgil van Dijk of Southampton, Klopp’s primary centre-back target, has also been out injured for a number of months. If Gomez himself is always ready for action whenever one or two of the senior centre-backs above him are unavailable, then he will quickly accumulate game-time in the bigger matches, alongside the cup fixtures that he would likely play if he remained at Liverpool.

Premier League clubs such as Brighton may be interested in acquiring Gomez on loan or even permanently, but his dream was to become a regular for Liverpool and his best chance to achieve that is to remain under the watchful eye of Klopp.

Moreover, the club themselves need to be selfish, and realise the need to retain a larger squad for the upcoming season, and Liverpool attracted numerous injuries last season when they did not have European football.

Therefore, a versatile player who potentially possesses the complete package for a defender has to remain at the club, as if he can recapture his form and confidence then Klopp knows he has a star prospect on his hands, as Rodgers did two years ago.

What is the point selling for a modest fee? Both Liverpool and Gomez deserve more than that.


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