Virgil van Dijk this, Virgil van Dijk that: just how were Liverpool going to cope without the imperious Dutchman, could Liverpool really rely on Joe Gomez to lead the backline to back to back to back Premier League titles? In the first few days, that answer seemed a resounding and worrying no.
Since the early period of adjustment, however, the Englishman has risen in the absence of his centre-back partner to become better than ever under the often critical microscope of spectators. So, as it stands, yes, undoubtedly, Joe Gomez can, and is, capable of leading the Liverpool backline, no matter who partners him; no matter who challenges him in the opposition lineup; he has simply stepped up when needed most.
Gomez is Using Virgil van Dijk Absence as Stepping Stone to Becoming World-Class
Excelling Even When Asked to Become Senior Man in Defence
Defensively, this season, Liverpool have been thrown every curve-ball possible, as if last season was all too perfect for this campaign to go once again swimmingly. First came the aforementioned van Dijk injury, then, when Jurgen Klopp had seemingly found the next best thing in Fabinho, he picked up an injury of his own.
It became so drastic that, in the end, it was 19 years old Rhys Williams who was forced to make his, far earlier than expected, Champions League debut against Ajax, just one year on from playing on loan in Non-League. Yet, despite the changes around him, the one constant which has remained is Joe Gomez’ form.
When asked, at just 23 years old himself, to play the senior man in the back two, Gomez did it in dominant and assured fashion against an Atalanta side almost famed for their attacking exploits following last season’s rise in the Serie A. At times, it was almost as if the young Englishman had grown a ponytail, stuck the number four shirt on, and morphed into van Dijk himself, he looked so calm and in control. Ever since being asked to step up for Liverpool, for that matter, Gomez has had a positive impact on the side with the Reds conceding just three goals in six games since van Dijk was forced out of the side and Gomez was forced to step into it so dominantly.
Gomez is Even Replacing Van Dijk’s Attacking Advantages
Replacing the defensive presence of van Dijk is difficult enough, but not many in the Premier League would also be able to replicate his attacking exploits and expert distribution from the backline, too. Yet, here Joe Gomez is, doing both at times, particularly against Sheffield United, as the statistics only back up.
Against the Blades, the young defender made 85 passes with a completion rate of 94.4% and, perhaps more crucially in his partner’s absence, completed 12/12 long balls to help unlock what was, for the most part, a stubborn Sheffield United defence.
And it is those long balls forward which reminded so many of van Dijk, too. So often, the Dutchman’s diagonals can be seen finding the feet of, either the overlapping fullbacks or, the always dangerous, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to gift Liverpool a crucial, and game-deciding, goal,
Without van Dijk, many questioned where those passes would come from and, therefore, how Liverpool would guide themselves past the low-block tactic often implemented against them. The answer to that question, of course, came from Joe Gomez once more, who will only continue to shut down any remaining critics as he reaches world-class status.
Even against Manchester City, he maintained his recent passing improvements, making the most in the game by a Liverpool player with 61, recording a completion rate of 89%.
It has become clear that, even in the absence of van Dijk, Gomez will only continue to rise to the very top of the Premier League. At 23, always improving, and 100 league appearances up for the Reds, Gomez looks ready to play a crucial role for years to come at Anfield, even in the most testing of times.
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