A bright season again came unstuck through injury for Joe Gomez, but he demonstrated that he has all the makings of a top-class centre-back.
It was a tale of two halves for Gomez in 2018/19, after his bright start as a mainstay in defence was brought to a cruel end through injury.
The 22-year-old looked at home alongside Virgil van Dijk and was one of the key contributors to Liverpool’s bright start to the season, after seven successive wins and four clean sheets across all competitions.
The England international would go on to make a total of 25 appearances for the Reds, where his four-month spell on the sidelines meant he was limited to just seven outings on his return to full fitness.
Despite his long-term absence, if there had been any doubts over his ability to step up and fill the void alongside Van Dijk, Gomez all but dispelled them.
Joe Gomez, 2018/19
Started: 17 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 8
Unused sub: 4
Our Overall Season Rating: 8
Average TIA Player Rating: 7.28 (Rank: 2nd)
Last year’s average TIA Player Rating: 6.44
A Top-Class Centre Back in the Making
After a lengthy absence during the second half of the season, it can be easy to forget how imperious Gomez was as he matched Van Dijk stride for stride.
The fact that he is ranked second behind only the Dutchman in TIA’s player ratings across the season showcases just how strong the start to his campaign was and the supreme level of talent he possesses.
He isn’t short on confidence nor the physicality required in the position, where his recovery pace and ability to read the game and pick out a pass became the hallmarks of his play.
Prior to his injury Gomez had featured in 18 games across all competitions, a run which saw the Reds concede just 10 goals, keep nine clean sheets and suffer only three defeats.
Gomez was instrumental in Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a number of timely blocks and interceptions.
In the 2-1 away win over Leicester he twice thwarted the Foxes’ assault in the penalty box, first stopping Demarai Gray and then James Maddison—which would have certainly led to a goal without his timely intervention.
Then came his brilliant performance at Chelsea where he played with a level of maturity beyond his years, like a veteran centre-back who refused to wilt under pressure, instead harnessing it to keep the Reds within striking distance.
His exponential rise continued as he carved out a formidable partnership at the heart of the defence and kept adding to his already impressive highlight reel.
A culmination of moments were headlined by his stunning goal-line clearance against Everton, which handed Liverpool the platform to clinch an invaluable victory at the death.
On the European stage, Gomez was just as instrumental to Liverpool’s journey to lifting Ol’ Big Ears for the sixth time, having featured in five of the six group games, before making four appearances in the knockout stages.
And it was fitting that he was handed a brief cameo in the final moments in Madrid as luck had yet again failed to be on his side on the injury front.
Injury Misfortune Rumbles On
For the fourth successive season Gomez has seen his campaign hampered by injury, but to say he is injury prone would be wide of the mark.
The England international has been on the end of a rotten string of impact injuries over the course of the last four years, tearing his ACL, requiring ankle surgery and suffering a fracture to his lower leg.
The latter ruled Gomez out of action for 23 games over the period of four months in the most intense spell of the season.
It was far from ideal for both the player and Liverpool as he was in the peak of his powers when it all came crashing down against Burnley in December.
There would be cause for concern if he continually picked up non-contact injuries, but there is little Gomez could have done to avoid the issues he has faced since Jurgen Klopp took over.
Importantly, he is young enough to continually bounce back from each setback and his return to action in the latter stages of the campaign ensures he will be able to take part in pre-season training from the off.
The challenge for Gomez now is to prove that he is the man to stand alongside Van Dijk for the long haul, and is a player Liverpool can build their future around.
Improvements & Future Role
Gomez finds himself in an intriguing position ahead of the new season following Joel Matip’s revival, the likely search for an understudy to Trent Alexander-Arnold and continued suggestions that Liverpool need to add another central defender to their ranks.
He is undoubtedly ahead of Dejan Lovren in the pecking order and will likely see himself competing with Matip for the sole spot alongside Van Dijk next season.
Despite pinch-hitting at right-back throughout his Liverpool career, the consensus is one which suggests Gomez should now exclusively play at the heart of the defence as that is where he holds the most influence.
The 22-year-old has few weaknesses and has youth on his side as he continues on an upward trajectory following on from a brilliant start to the 2018/19 season.
An unlucky string of injuries has disrupted his career to date, but he is undoubtedly a key player for Liverpool in both the short and long-term, and he has all the makings of a world-class defender.
Best moment: Goal-line clearance against Everton at Anfield.
Worst moment: Fracture to his leg against Burnley which ruled him out for over four months just as he was starting to blossom in the centre of defence.
Role next season: A key pillar in defence, exclusively at centre-back.