Defender | Liverpool | England
While the world record signing of Virgil van Dijk is largely the reason attributed to Liverpool’s improvement in defence in 2018, not many would begrudge the excellent Joe Gomez a similar amount of praise.
Part of a new generation of English defenders, the fact he has now established himself as a regular starter for both and country is a testament to his rapid improvement as well as obvious natural ability since he was plucked away from Charlton Athletic by Brendan Rodgers and his infamous transfer committee back in 2015.
2018 has been…
Mixed, though it’s hard to fault him as an individual.
Back in January, when he appeared in the first four Premier League matches of the year, the 21-year-old was deployed on their defensive flank to accomodate for Van Dijk’s £75m arrival earlier that month, with the Dutchman paired alongside Dejan Lovren. This despite the fact he’d marshalled Neymar well at Wembley in a central defensive position during a friendly back in November 2017, as well as playing there a handful of times for the Addicks as a very young pro.
In hindsight, though, while he is capable of performing well on the right-hand side, Gomez’s first few games as a regular starter in that berth were difficult. Indeed, it was his mistake that allowed Leroy Sane to equalise during Manchester City’s infamous 4-3 Premier League loss at Anfield towards the start of the calendar year. After that, while the Reds were painfully inconsistent for the remainder of the 2017/18 league campaign, falling to a defeat against relegation battlers Swansea City and drawing against fellow bottom-three dwellers West Bromwich Albion, Gomez found himself at full-back.
Mistakes are to be expected for a young player, especially playing in a defence like Liverpool’s was back then, but they aren’t why the defender suffered personal low points in 2018.
An injury while away in the Netherlands on England duty back in March then forced him to rush back in time for the Champions League final and the World Cup, though ultimately that worked against him after he was forced into ankle surgery following a draw with Stoke City back in May. He ended up missing both.
What has been clear with Gomez over the course of the year is his excellent ability on the ball, as well as his top level tempratement. Rarely flustered, Gomez certainly looks the part and now he’s nailed down in central defence, is proving a wonderful foil for van Dijk.
A regular for Gareth Southgate’s new-look England team post Russia 2018, he even looks to have dislodged the previously seemingly imperious Harry Maguire as a top class partner for John Stones at the heart of the Three Lions’ defence for years to come.
This review may have been entirely different had he not suffered injuries during the first quarter of 2018 and it’s hard to see anything other than more top class performances as a defined centre-back from Gomez.
It’s hard to get away from the fact that the pressure levels will rise for both club and country after their collective exploits in 2018, though you wouldn’t bet against Gomez adapting to that with relative ease.