SINCE his arrival from Charlton Athletic back in the summer of 2015, Joe Gomez has had his fair share of ups and downs, writes PETER TSCHEREWIK. Having featured in his first competitive outing for Liverpool’s Under-23s in over a year last week, the questions remains how Jürgen Klopp will use the youngster over the course of the season.
To say that injuries have disrupted Gomez’s progress at the club would be an understatement, but the 19-year-old has insisted he is out to impress his manager as he continues to regain his match fitness.
He told Liverpoolfc.com: “It was a tough year for me, but it meant a lot to get my first minutes [back] on the pitch.
“It was a long time away from it. It meant a lot and it was a relief to get playing again. I dreamt of it for a long time, as you can imagine, so it was good.”
James Milner has been shoehorned into left-back this season, as Gomez was under Brendan Rodgers, and has cemented a starting 11 place ahead of Alberto Moreno.
While the youngster flourished in the appearances he made at the start of last season, he came through as a centre-back when at Charlton Athletic and at youth level for England — and it is believed that is the role that Klopp sees him occupying in future.
Liverpool have a settled centre-back pairing in Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren at the moment, with Ragnar Klavan and Lucas Leiva as back-up.
Klavan was brought in this summer to replace the experience of the outgoing Kolo Toure. The Estonian has previously said he is “old enough to understand the situation,” an acknowledgement of his role ast the club.
Lucas, meanwhile, is approaching his 10th year at the club — with a testimonial on the horizon — and has been moulded into a makeshift centre-half by Klopp. His future still remains somewhat precarious, with seven months left on his current deal.
Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori both featured alongside Gomez as a back-three for the under-23 side in the Lancashire Senior Cup win over Burnley, though both look unlikely to remain at the club beyond the conclusion of this season.
With that in mind, some fans are keen to see the manager spend big on reinforcements in the heart of defence — Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk seems a popular option among Reds.
While Liverpool’s squad depth is probably the best it has been in years, yet we still lack sufficient cover in the full-back areas. If Nathaniel Clyne was to do the seemingly impossible and pick up a knock, Trent Alexander-Arnold would be the natural deputy. On the other side, Milner doesn’t seem a long term option at left-back — despite his performances so far this campaign — while Moreno still puts the fear of god into a large portion of Kopites. Perhaps Gomez can provide cover for both those positions, long term.
As the ECHO suggested, Gomez’s maturity and versatility could save Klopp a fortune in coming transfer windows — which will appease the German, who has made it clear he’d prefer to promote from within.
With little rest in between games over the festive period, he could prove to be of some importance for Liverpool, so long as he regains match fitness. It is important, though, that he isn’t rushed back after such a long absence, as Gomez himself stressed.
“After a long-term injury, you’ve got to be careful with how far you push it. I’ve just got to be patient and build up my minutes, gradually taking my time getting back to full fitness. It’s all part of the journey,” he said.
Klopp will understand better than anybody that he has to manage the player and monitor his fitness, though Gomez will be eager to make a return to the first team fold with the Reds currently in exceptional form. The last thing anyone wants is for him to suffer another setback, as a result of being rushed back too soon.
There have been reports linking Gomez with a loan move, similar to when he first joined into the club, with the aim of getting his sharpness back through competitive minutes.
Where he quickly established himself as a first team player under Rodgers, he has a different challenge on his hands to break into Klopp’s plans — or even prove he’s up to speed enough to be useful cover for the first team.
Gomez obviously has a big future at the club but he can also provide an immediate option. His versatility makes him an asset, now and in the long term. The future is bright.