Joe Gomez has re-established himself as a starter for Liverpool and now that he’s finally in among the elite of European football he has no intention of letting this opportunity pass the team by.
Gomez has been a stand-out for Jurgen Klopp‘s team over the last couple of months, performing with outrageous consistency alongside Virgil van Dijk.
He and Joel Matip have seemed to push each other on to scale new heights over the last couple of seasons, with Dejan Lovren also coming in at times when one or the other is injured.
Gomez is the undisputed starter once more and played against Atletico in Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat, a disappointing result but a milestone night for Gomez himself.
The centre-back told the club website that the defeat was “not something we’re used to” after an unbeaten campaign so far in the Premier League, but says the Reds will be all-in to turn things around immediately.
“If anything, [the defeat] just gives us that motivation to bounce back and make it right as quickly as possible. Sometimes it happens and you need to take the positives from it,” he said.
“It gives us that hunger again – not that we didn’t have it but we just want to bounce back and make it right. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
For Gomez, this run in the knock-outs—however long it lasts—is actually a first real chance to show what he’s capable of at the elite level.
He has been part of Klopp’s squad over the last two years as the Reds reached successive finals but, for a mix of reasons, had yet to play in his favoured position in a knock-out European fixture.
Back in 2015/16, he made two Europa League appearances in the group stage before an ACL injury curtailed his season when Klopp took over.
There was no European action the following season, then in 16/17 he was dovetailing with Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back. Eventually, injury to Gomez meant Trent nailed down the spot for the long haul, with Gomez not playing in the Champions League past the last 16 second leg at Porto—at right-back.
It was last season when he finally established himself as a starter for the Reds in the centre of defence, but once more injury struck—while playing on the right at Burnley before Christmas—and by the time he returned, Joel Matip had taken up residence next to Van Dijk.
Gomez made one start and three sub appearances across the quarters, semis and final, all on the right or to close out the final moments of games in a five-man defence.
His name in the starting lineup at the Wanda Metropolitano, then, was a first opportunity to distinguish himself in the upper reaches of the game—and due to a few rare and uncharacteristically sloppy moments from his team-mates, he was arguably Liverpool’s best defender, and possibly player, on the night.
No wonder, then, that Gomez is determined that Liverpool set the record straight in the second leg—and points out why it’s more than just blind faith that the team can produce a turnaround.
“Credit to them, they made it tough and difficult. We’ve just got to dust ourselves off and stay confident, it’s halfway so we’ve still got a chance to make it right at Anfield.
“We can take confidence from the way we dominated possession, especially in the second half. The chances will come. It’s not over, far from it.
“[These games and trophies are] what we play for, that’s part of this club and what it’s all about – big European nights. We’ll look forward to it.
“It’ll be a good match-up; [the first leg] showed it can be a good game. We’ll look forward to it. We’ve got some time in between then, we’ve got to focus on the Premier League now and be ready when it comes back around.”
For Gomez, whose road to the top at Liverpool has already been five years in the making, the opportunity to progress further in the competition surely can’t come quickly enough.
One more game and it’ll be his best-ever season in terms of appearances; one more clean sheet and win in Europe and he’ll also, at long last, continue to write his name among the finest centre-backs in the entire continent.