A series of unfortunate developments have seen Joe Gomez play most of his minutes for Liverpool at full-back, despite signing as a fresh-faced centre-back in the summer of 2015.
The first of those developments was Brendan Rodgers developing the idea that to save his job, a back four with an 18-year-old out of position at left-back was the obvious solution. Gomez made five appearances, playing fairly well before injury curtailed his season.
Finally getting back to full fitness after a long lay-off, Gomez saw himself thrust into a right-back role under Jurgen Klopp towards the start of this season.
The unfortunate absence of Nathaniel Clyne saw teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold step forward as the only natural right-back, leaving Klopp wanting to use Gomez there in an attempt to balance an unusual amount of minutes between the young pair.
Once again, Gomez has stepped forward and done an admirable job, already into double figures for appearances at full-back this season.
So, it begs the question, are Liverpool set to make him a permanent right-back?
Path becoming clearer
The initial issue that would spring to mind for many over Gomez becoming a right-back full-time at Liverpool, would be the path to that spot.
Nathaniel Clyne has made the spot his own since signing from Southampton in 2015, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold is nailed down in the minds of most fans as Clyne’s successor, given his undoubted potential.
However, Alexander-Arnold isn’t hammered in at right-back for the time being, as Gomez isn’t at centre-back. Although his first-team minutes have mostly come in defence, Alexander-Arnold featured in midfield on many occasions for Liverpool’s various youth teams, a position he may re-discover for the senior side given some time.
Plus, who knows what is going on with Nathaniel Clyne. A few days turned into a few weeks and then a few months. Now it’s reconstructive surgery just as he was set to return, with his back issue set to lead to a total absence of 7-8 months.
It’s not crazy to suggest that Clyne’s back problem could be a constant one that causes him problems for the rest of his career.
Gomez adds something different at full-back
Of course, many would say that if Alexander-Arnold was to move into midfield and Clyne was to be crocked often, Liverpool would look to buy a right-back rather than convert Gomez to the position.
However, it’s clear to see that despite not being the modern full-back that we’re so used to, the 20-year-old offers clear attributes that benefit the team when he’s playing there.
Standing at 6ft 2″, Gomez at right-back enables Klopp to get another tall player into a fairly short team, thus decreasing risk at set-pieces.
Also, having a more defensive right-back complimenting Alberto Moreno or Andrew Robertson bombing on across the left isn’t the worst idea for the balance of a Liverpool team that concedes far too many goals when the centre-back’s are left exposed.
Gomez isn’t as quick as Clyne or Alexander-Arnold, but is no slouch. Even so, his lack of natural urge to bomb up and down the flank could be offset by playing a natural winger on the right such as Sadio Mane or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst Moreno/Robertson could overlap past the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah on the left, when Coutinho and Salah drift inwards.
Can Gomez still play centre-back?
This seems a stupid question, but it’s one worth asking. Despite having arrived as a talented centre-back, Gomez has played there little for the senior side.
Given he’s still in his development years, it’s very easy for a player like Gomez to pick up new traits and forget those of old, or even learn bad traits.
So much senior football at young age is often seen as good for a young player regardless of their position, but there’s always the worry that should Liverpool return Gomez to centre-back for every minute he plays, he’s going to have picked up right-back traits that don’t suit what Klopp wants one of his central pairing to do.
He, Gomez, earned rave rewards for a composed full England debut against Brazil on Tuesday evening, leaving Reds’across the globe urging Klopp to pick him in his preferred position, given he lined up as a centre-back for Gareth Southgate’s men and kept Neymar quiet.
However, Gomez played on the right of a back three for England, often shifting naturally into a right-back position to cover Kyle Walker when the Three Lions looked to move forward in transition. Many of Gomez’s best moments came when Brazil recovered the ball and he was forced to defend against Neymar in the right-back zone he’s often occupied for Liverpool this season.
Even if you look at his positive moments at central defence, they came for an England team playing Jose Mourinho like football, masquerading as looking to deploy a swish new three at the back formation. Most of the time, it was five defender’s with the bus firmly parked. Liverpool play a completely different style, and expect different things from their defence.
When BGJ, as he’s affectionately referred to, has been given the opportunity to start at centre-back for Liverpool, he’s failed to impress. Albeit being in cup games when he’d just returned to fitness, Gomez failed to put any evidence in the ‘Joe Gomez playing well at centre-back for Liverpool’ box.
Whilst a move to right-back permanently isn’t a certainty, it isn’t out of the question.
Those who cry for Gomez to be put in at centre-back from this weekend onwards may be disappointed, with Klopp set to continue in his use of him at right-back until Nathaniel Clyne comes back.
The German may change tact, potentially splitting the right-back workload between Trent AA and James Milner in order to thrust Gomez into the centre, but we’ve seen little indication that Klopp’s set to do that so far.
If Gomez at right-back continues to be a thing for much longer, it may never stop.