Pressure on Joe Gomez to Shine at Centre-Back

Pressure on Joe Gomez to Shine at Centre-Back

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Every Liverpool supporter has their own take on the Reds’ summer transfer window, with some pleased with the business done and others left disillusioned about missing out on certain key targets.

Whatever your stance, one thing that seems unforgivable is not bringing in at least one new centre-back, with a move for Virgil van Dijk fizzling out in rather pathetic fashion.

It has been a problem for so long now, and with other areas of the pitch looking so strong, it is infuriating to see the issue remain unresolved.

To have Van Dijk as the only centre-back target is negligence of the highest order, regardless of whether it was Jurgen Klopp’s decision or FSG’s, and it now leaves Liverpool horribly short in that department.

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The first-choice pairing of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren are an injury-prone duo who only started 23 times together last season – they picked up an alarming total of 13 injuries between them – and their level of consistency is still a worry, particularly Lovren.

In fairness, they have only lost once together when they have both started for Liverpool in the Premier League, but the ongoing concern is that they will be in and out of the side because of fitness issues.

Ragnar Klavan is a capable but limited back-up option, and his career is slowly winding down now. He can come in and do a job, but only sporadically.

In a season that will hopefully see Liverpool battling across four different competitions, the only other option is Joe Gomez.

The 20-year-old suffered from terrible bad luck when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury shortly after Klopp’s arrival at Anfield in October 2015, and an added achilles problem the following summer ensuring he missed 15 months of action.

An unsurprisingly rusty return saw him struggle during Liverpool ill-fated and short-lived FA Cup run last season, and there were even slight murmurs that he would never fully recover from his injury.

A particularly sloppy performance in the 2-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield seemed to be the final straw for many, but it was reckless to write him off so soon, after such a long lay-off.

Gomez has roared back into contention during the summer and opening weeks of 2017/18, however, impressing at right-back with his physicality, quality on the ball and general athleticism.

The former Charlton Athletic has been something of a revelation, as has been the case with Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the continued absence of Nathaniel Clyne is not being felt because of it.

If right-back is Gomez’s position currently, it seems almost certain that he is going to have slot in at centre-back a fair amount, which will be a whole different challenge.

Granted, he joined Liverpool as a promising central defender, and is expected to play there permanently one day, but is he ready to be relied upon at the top level?

Doing an efficient job at right-back is slightly easier than at centre-back, and the Reds’ woeful failed attempts to sign someone in that role has now heaped unnecessary pressure on Gomez.

As mentioned, it is very difficult to see Matip and Lovren staying fit for the entirety of the campaign, especially when you consider the addition of Champions League football, and it is likely to mean a more prominent role for Gomez than we expected.

Klavan’s fitness record is better than the first-choice pair, but as he approaches his 32nd birthday, he is not someone who can play every three days.

How is there possibly this lack of depth at the back? It beggars belief.

Liverpool should not be in a position where Gomez is being relied upon quite so heavily, and that is nothing against his ability as a footballer.

He remains an incredibly inexperienced centre-back, having only played there three times for the Reds. Those appearances were all against lower league opposition in the FA Cup, so he hasn’t even been tested against the best yet.

Who knows how he will fare if thrown in against the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata and Gabriel Jesus.

In an ideal world, Gomez will thrive when called upon – ideally, he would come in, impress and eventually replace the erratic Lovren – but his surprise importance to the squad highlights what a mess the club made with their defensive summer business.

To put all their eggs in one basket with Van Dijk always felt like a risk that would backfire, and that is exactly what happened.

You have to feel a bit for Gomez, who may well suffer when thrown in at the deep end at centre-back, but hopefully, he will look as calm and collected as he has in his right-sided berth.

Klopp is a huge advocate of youth – could his faith in Gomez shine through when his young starlet has to slot in centrally?