World-class Gomez showing why fan patience is priceless

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Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Everton in the FA Cup has to go down one of the most memorable Merseyside derbies of all time.

It may not have been the Premier League, which clearly takes precedence this season, but the nature of the victory was a mixture of hilarious and commendable.

For such an inexperienced Liverpool side to overcome their full-strength local rivals was an astonishing effort, when defeat looked on the cards prior to kickoff.

While Curtis Jones earned the headlines and the likes of Adrian, Neco Williams, Pedro Chirivella and Harvey Elliott received deserved praise, Joe Gomez was the game’s most important performer.

The 22-year-old held together a defence that also included Williams, Nat Phillips and, for most of the game, Yasser Larouci, in a performance Virgil van Dijk would have been proud of.

Gomez was all-conquering in everything he did, from keeping his back-line organised to striding out like a colossus.

It epitomised what has been a supreme run of form for the Reds, since re-finding his groove in the absence of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren.

It is easy to forget how high Gomez’s stock was in the first half of last season, as he and Van Dijk forged an almost-perfect centre-back pairing.

Looking every bit as dominant as his colleague, he played a major role in Liverpool conceding just five goals in their opening 14 Premier League matches.

Then Burnley away happened.

Gomez was the victim of an overly-reckless challenge by Ben Mee, suffering a broken leg and essentially playing a supporting role once he returned in mid-April.

The Englishman may have finished the season as a European champion, but he must have been disappointed to feature so little in such a memorable period.

Gomez’s form at the back-end of last season and the beginning of this campaign was patchy, and all of a sudden he found himself being questioned.

Lovren had found his most consistent level in a Reds shirt, while Matip performed like a man possessed throughout 2019, before an injury of his own ironically gave Gomez an opportunity again.

From being arguably the most exciting young centre-back in Europe, the ex-Charlton Athletic youngster found both his fitness and potential being questioned, with Matip and Van Dijk now Jurgen Klopp’s go-to pairing.

Ar right-back, Gomez looked out of place when used there, while in his preferred central role, there was a shakiness to his displays that seemed impossible prior to his injury at Turf Moor.

Liverpool’s 4-3 win at home to Salzburg was a particularly alarming showing, as the Reds blew a 3-0 at one point and Gomez looked all at sea for much of proceedings.

Footballer supporters are among the most knee-jerk individuals in modern society, so perhaps it was no surprise to see Gomez receive such negative press.

Forget the fact that he was still finding his feet after a serious injury setback – why wasn’t he the world-class defender we had seen previously?

These individuals aren’t robots, however, and we must accept that they go through peaks and troughs, especially when they are as tender an age as Gomez.

Lo and behold, Liverpool’s No.12 has overcome his mini-slump and hit top gear again, proving to be one of the Reds’ outstanding players over the festive period.

In his last eight starts, the Reds have only conceded once, with the solitary goal coming against Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-final, when Jordan Henderson was next to him at centre-back.

Gomez has looked as imperious as he ever has for Liverpool, cutting the same pre-broken leg figure who oozed class, pace and authority.

Liverpool’s defence has tightened up significantly because of his perfectly-timed return to his best, with the Reds allowing opponents just 5.4 shots per game on average over the last five league games, compared to 10.47 before it, via Football Whispers‘ Sam McGuire.

Aided by the monstrous Van Dijk and incomparable full-back duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, Klopp’s men now look unbreachable at the back.

Put simply, Gomez is Liverpool’s second-best centre-back.

This is no slight on Matip, who was faultless before his spell out of the side, and whose return will be greeted with great happiness.

The Cameroonian isn’t as quick as Gomez, he doesn’t possess his quality on the ball – he is still strong in both aspects – and he has nowhere near the same ceiling as his colleague.

While Matip is excellent, and Lovren is better than some give him credit for, Gomez has shown once again that he and Van Dijk should be the foundation that props up Liverpool’s title charge, along with Alisson.

He isn’t perfect, and his age means mistakes will still happen, but he has been a joy to watch before and after Christmas, showing the importance of patience among the fanbase.

Form will come and go, but class is permanent, and Gomez has the ability to be a genuinely great defender for both Liverpool and England over the next decade.

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