As Liverpool continue to storm towards Premier League glory, Ben Webb takes time out to heap praise on Joe Gomez – currently England’s best centre-back.
From joining Liverpool at the age of eighteen, having to contend with a string of injuries (565 days missed) and often being played out of position, to playing a role in winning the UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and sitting 25-points clear at the summit of the Premier League.
Joe Gomez has gone from forgotten prospect to being in one of the finest centre-back partnerships in European football today. All by the age of twenty-two. This is my ode to Joe Gomez, a player continually progressing for Liverpool, and a case for him being England’s best centre-back. Here’s why he should be at the forefront of the national team’s defence – starting at Euro 2020.
Cast your minds back to that Wednesday night at The Turf Moor in December 2018, which saw Joe Gomez fall victim to yet another injury, following a dangerous tackle from Ben Mee; a cruel twist of fate to an already unfortunate plethora of contact injuries.
He has, at times, been on a par with van Dijk, which is a compliment of the highest order.
This time a fracture to his lower leg, thus ending a magnificent run of form and casting doubt over when he may feature again and how badly this significant injury may hinder his future performances. A sickening blow for Liverpool fans who’d become accustomed to Gomez’s blossoming partnership with Virgil van Dijk during the opening half of the season.
Luckily, Joel Matip stepped up to the plate in Gomez’s prolonged absence (due to surgery) and when Matip suffered injury problems of his own at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Gomez was ready to hit the ground running and pick up where he left off.
His form this season has been gradual – which is understandable, considering the injury and disruption of rhythm – but, once his fitness and consistency returned, he has, at times, been on a par with van Dijk, which is a compliment of the highest order.
Let’s look at Gomez in the Premier League this season: seventeen appearances, seventeen wins. Ten clean sheets from Liverpool’s twelve. Two goals conceded with Gomez on the pitch. Yes, that’s two conceded in seventeen appearances. Errors leading to a goal? None. Duels won? Sixty-two. Seventy-six recoveries. I could go on and on.
He’s everything you’d want from a modern day centre-back. Physically strong (bearing in mind his age), his pace is very underrated in my opinion; actually, I would commit to the idea that he’s as fast as any other centre-back in the league. His reading of the game, ability to spot a dangerous situation and adjust his positioning is one of his strongest assets.
Along with being a technically good passer of the ball and assured in possession (an essential requirement in Klopp’s style of play) alongside having all the classic characteristics of defender. Most of all, and the newest trait to Gomez’ game – composure. A factor that defines any defender worth their salt.
High pressure, split-second decision making, made in a calm, decisive manner. Something that seems to have been instilled throughout the entire squad, Gomez is no exception. Confidence breeds confidence, and he’s not lacking any.
I’ve heard mutterings in the past suggesting van Dijk and Alisson Becker’s presence have ‘papered over the cracks’ when analysing Gomez’s performances, perhaps hiding his flaws by excelling to such an extent.
However, I disagree – he has, without doubt, benefitted from having the world’s best centre-back and goalkeeper by his side, along with full-backs that would walk into any team on the planet. But to suggest it’s them (and them only) who have produced this exceptional talent, is nonsensical.
When is this same theory applied to other players? Is Laporte only good because of the team around him? No. Do they benefit from the talent around them and the system they play within? Yes. But that doesn’t make them a ‘system player’, it means they understand team dynamics and use them as a beneficial factor. Take Gomez out of his normal surroundings and he still flourishes. I have proof.
Liverpool vs. Everton in the FA Cup, Joe Gomez remained the only senior player in the backline, after Milner left the pitch injured on nine minutes (replaced by Larouci), with Adrian behind him.
Yet, regardless of these changes in personnel, and no Virgil or Alisson ushering and commanding, Gomez still put in a monumental shift, exemplifying his own leadership qualities and earning yet another important clean sheet. Good players make good players better, but good players remain good players. Who’d have thought it?!
Looking to the future, I see no reason why Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff shouldn’t be highlighting Gomez as the backbone of the current (and future) England defence. He has proven beyond doubt that he can perform consistently and under high levels of pressure, and more importantly, is already adept at playing out from the back and holding a high line – something Southgate regularly deploys.
And when examining who fits that criteria, I genuinely believe Gomez is the most suitable option. Maguire, Keane and Tarkowski have age on their side, but Gomez doesn’t lack experience and is arguably better placed, currently, to continue his upward trajectory.
Looking to the future, I see no reason why Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff shouldn’t be highlighting Gomez as the backbone of the current (and future) England defence.
Do any of the above mentioned have specific attributes that Gomez is lacking? Not particularly. I would be inclined to argue he’s faster, fitter and more mentally robust than them all. Failing that, just look at form. He’s not been a flash in the pan this season (or last), it’s consistent, dependable performances – and he’s only going to get better.
Where better to perfect your defensive craft, than alongside Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Jurgen Klopp? Not just at the point of me writing this, but secured for the future due to both Gomez and Klopp signing new deals, which will keep them at the club for the foreseeable.
This adds sustainability to his development by securing the advantageous environment which has seen him prosper. I fully expect Gomez to exceed all expectations and continue to thrive under Klopp’s influence, winning (yet more) silverware for Liverpool, and deservingly earning international caps at the heart of England’s defence.