Cast your mind back to the latter stages of last season, when a clearly unfit Joe Gomez was struggling to impress.
Utilised at right-back, the 21-year-old was a weak presence in frustrating draws against relegated pair Stoke City and West Brom, conceding a last-gasp free-kick that proved key in the latter.
With Liverpool doing their best to make a top-four finish harder than it needed to be, it was Gomez who received the brunt of the negativity, with some even questioning his long-term future at Anfield.
The outstanding performances of Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t help and an injury-plagued second half of the season saw Gomez’s stock drop.
It felt knee-jerk at the time, with fitness problems holding him back more than anything, but it didn’t stop doubts growing over whether he would go on to reach his huge potential.
Fast forward five months and the way in which his reputation has skyrocketed is remarkable. He is now an undisputed first-team regular producing consistently top class performances.
Ironically, Gomez missing the World Cup and Dejan Lovren going so far in it has ended up working beautifully in the youngster’s favour, with the Croatian initially looking favourite to be first-choice in 2018/19, following a strong end to last season.
Afforded a full pre-season after regaining fitness, Gomez impressed throughout the summer, and with Lovren and Joel Matip both sidelined and Ragnar Klavan sold, he was the only real option as Virgil van Dijk’s centre-back partner. Sometimes you need those lucky breaks.
It is common knowledge that Gomez was signed from Charlton Athletic in 2015 as a central defender, but did anybody really envisage him shining this much in such a short space of time? Gomez’s form has been sensational since Liverpool’s campaign got underway at home to West Ham and he was again his team’s best player in Wednesday’s limp 1-0 defeat at Napoli. He has been part of a defence that has conceded just three times in seven Premier League matches, looking like an experienced head who has been a regular for a decade.
The influence that Van Dijk – one of the world’s best players in his position – has had on Gomez has been great, but he has been an immaculate presence in his own right, sometimes even bailing the Dutchman out.
A notable moment in that respect came in the narrow 2-1 victory at Leicester City when Gomez’s almost miraculous last-ditch block came seconds after Van Dijk had failed to cover himself in glory. Gomez has actually outshone his older teammate in these opening weeks of the season, even though Van Dijk will sometimes stand out more obviously and earn more column inches.
Gomez has made more tackles (1.4 vs. 1) and interceptions (1.3 vs 1.1) per game, while his key pass average (0.4) per match is also superior to Van Dijk’s (0.2).
When it comes to using the ball in general, Gomez has been the more effective of the two, even though it may not always look that way.
Van Dijk’s stylishness makes him a joy to watch with the ball at his feet, with his effortless cross-field passes so often landing at the feet of a teammate in inch-perfect fashion.
He has not been as risky and productive on the ball as Gomez, however, with Liverpool’s young star proving so assured and capable of threading balls into the midfield, breaking the lines in the process.
Like John Stones at Man City, Gomez is a risk-taker in possession and there are clear shades of a young Rio Ferdinand about him.
You can see him growing in stature by the game, bringing the ball out with authority and looking like he suddenly realises he belongs at the highest level.
It must be stressed that Van Dijk has generally been imperious in his own right, too, with he and Gomez among Liverpool’s top four or five performers in 2018/19 to date.
Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner would likely make up that current list, but you couldn’t argue with the Reds’ newest centre-back pairing being the top-two.
The level that Gomez has found since being shifted into his preferred role has been extraordinary and we are now seeing why he was tipped as a future England captain as a teenager.
Unless the dreaded injury curse strikes him down, it is almost impossible not to see him being a mainstay for club and country for the foreseeable future.
He has everything it takes to be a world-class defender in time, whether it’s blistering pace, calmness and quality on the ball or astute positional sense.
Gomez is still extremely young, and bad displays will arrive from time to time, but few youngsters at Anfield have looked as exciting in recent years than the Reds’ No.12.
The fact that he is narrowly outperforming someone who is regarded as one of the best defenders on the planet says all you need to know how about good he has been.
If Gomez can find the kind of sustained brilliance Van Dijk has in recent years, barring his slight lacking-in-focus wobble at Southampton last season, he can join him at the very top eventually.