Virgil van Dijk has had different defensive partners for Liverpool this season. While he himself hasn’t exactly suffered too much because of it, the club’s defence as a whole has. In this merry-go-round of defensive partners, Joe Gomez has emerged as the most reliable partner.
Van Dijk has had Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren play alongside him this season- like he did last season. All of them have given differing results, with the Reds not keeping as many clean sheets as they did for the whole of last season.
When Matip was featuring for the club before his knee injury, he made only ten appearances in all competitions for the club. During that time, Jurgen Klopp’s men could keep only two clean sheets. They came against Sheffield United and Burnley, as they picked up a 1-0 and 3-0 win respectively.
As for Lovren, he was playing for a brief while after Matip’s injury. The Croatian made 12 appearances in all competitions, playing eight Premier League games. Even when he was featuring for the club, Liverpool kept just two clean sheets- against a struggling Bournemouth and against RB Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League. That win took Liverpool through to the next round of the competition.
As for Gomez, he has made 23 appearances in all competitions so far. When fit, he has been the first option for Klopp in that part of the pitch. It is obvious that Gomez will keep more clean sheets if he plays more games, but the Reds have kept four clean sheets in just as many of their last Premier League games. Gomez has partnered Van Dijk in every single game of that four.
Last season wasn’t the best one for Gomez. His ankle issues had come back to haunt him, keeping him out for 23 games. Even in the 2017-18 season, Gomez had been out seven games due to the same ankle issue. But this season has been a reflection of how, when fit, he can easily partner Van Dijk consistently.
Gomez has been dribbled past only 0.2 times per game this season- the lowest in the side and tied with Van Dijk himself. Lovren’s number stands at 0.5, with Matip’s at exactly 1. While Matip is certainly better aerially, Gomez is a better reader of the game than him.
But Gomez is a technician and has played the least number of inaccurate short-passes when compared to the other central defenders. That number for him stands at only 3.1 per game. The same goes for inaccurate long-balls per game, with Gomez numbers at 2.5 only.
Gomez has played fewer passes per game than Lovren and Matip. But he has played fewer minutes than them and that is one reason for it being low. But the fact that he gets dribbled past fewer shows he won’t dive into challenges- something Matip and Lovren are prone to.
Recently, Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia heaped huge praise on Gomez for his ability. The former Reds’ defender said:
“Joe Gomez can be the leading centre-back in England for a long time. He is still young and he can still learn. With experience he will learn, but he has everything. I know Virgil van Dijk is not the oldest guy, but Gomez is like a young Virgil. He has the same qualities—he’s so quick and so strong in his challenges and he can play football as well.”
When that praise comes from one of the best Liverpool defenders of all time, it carries some weight. Gomez may not be as physically imposing as Van Dijk, but the qualities are similar. It is tough to get past him. He won’t lunge into tackles and can carry the ball forward.
For starters, that is what he needs apart from staying fit. Gomez is still 22 and clearly has a bright future ahead of him. He has the right sort of personality beside him to learn and grow more in his role.