Joe Gomez has described the exuberant Rhian Brewster as a “breath of fresh air” for Liverpool, and a “prime example” as he battles to reclaim his starting spot.
JACK LUSBY in Boston
The Reds find themselves midway through a pre-season tour of the United States which has so far heralded two defeats and training sessions in intense east-coast heat.
Those losses to Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla are inconsequential, of course, with fitness and on-field fluency the goal as Liverpool gear up for the season opener against Man City at Wembley on August 4.
For Gomez this period is crucial, as having suffered a fractured leg in December of last year, the 22-year-old’s excellent campaign at centre-back screeched to a halt.
On making his comeback he had lost his place to Joel Matip, whose consistent form has been highlighted by Jurgen Klopp.
A multi-talented defender, Gomez has been fielded exclusively at the heart of the defence in pre-season, but there remains the possibility that, without cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold, he could still find himself at right-back in 2019/20.
The No. 12 is consistent in his favoured role, but speaking to This Is Anfield in Boston he stressed his team-first approach.
“I think it’s obvious that [centre-back is] my preferred position, the gaffer knows that,” Gomez said.
“Regardless of that, he doesn’t need to tell me, if I’m needed he knows that I’ll be happy to play [at right-back]. I’m not going to not play.”
His emphasis is clearly on game time, and preferably as a starter, with a straightforward pre-season—which saw him report back early from a scheduled break—providing him a great opportunity to stake a claim.
Gomez made his recovery in April, with one start and six substitute appearances in the final two months of the campaign, and feels he is well-placed to contend from the off this time out.
“[This pre-season] is important,” he continued, as the Reds began to file out of Fenway Park in relentless humidity.
“I had some time back in at the end of last season, but the main thing for me is just trying to stay fit, trying to keep learning.
“At the end of the day I’m in the same position as everyone else; we’re here, we’re fit and we’re playing, so that’s all we can focus on.”
Two players who will have outlined this summer as crucial as they work their way into the fold are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster.
Both spent the majority of last season out with serious injury, a reality Gomez is familiar with from his four years as a Liverpool player so far, but he is confident Oxlade-Chamberlain is “playing with confidence” despite his lengthy spell out.
“He’s had a tough time, I know what it’s like to have a long rehab, and go through it, you’re finding your feet and sometimes you doubt yourself,” the defender added.
“But he’s playing with confidence and enjoying himself, and that’s the nicest thing to see: just to be able to play freely and be himself.”
Brewster is making a big impression so far in pre-season, with the striker scoring four goals in four appearances as he prepares to take up a focal role in Klopp’s side.
The 19-year-old is a popular figure within the squad, and Gomez detailed just why the dressing room are willing him on, and why he is backed to succeed.
“Rhian’s just like a breath of fresh air, he enjoys football,” he said.
“He’s got that perfect balance of confidence, but not arrogance, and just enjoyment.
“Sometimes you lose track of that in the game, and it’s important to just enjoy what we do and Rhi is the prime example of that.
“So that’s why I think he’s doing so well.”
Brewster drew a blank for the first time this pre-season when he failed to score in the 2-1 loss to Sevilla in Boston on Sunday night—a result which left Klopp and his players frustrated.
It was a game marred by Joris Gnagnon’s cruel challenge on Yasser Larouci, but as the squad look ahead, Gomez insisted Liverpool need to build “momentum” regardless of the outcome on the pitch.
“Obviously [we’re] disappointed with two disappointing results, but we have to take what we can from the games and move on, and try and pick up some more momentum,” he concluded.
The Reds are next up against Sporting CP in New York on Wednesday, and no doubt Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Brewster will all feature heavily again.
The positivity Gomez is showing this summer is encouraging, and suggests he is steeled to reclaim his place alongside Virgil van Dijk in Klopp’s first-choice defence.