Joe Gomez made the step into the elite category in 2019/20 having claimed Liverpool’s right-sided centre-back spot as his own, at times shining brighter than the world’s best.
It was a frustrating 2018/19 season for Gomez after injury derailed his bright start in the side, meaning he was left to fight for his place back in the side for the new campaign.
The 23-year-old did not look back, proving to be a key pillar in a formidable defensive line which kept seven successive Premier League clean sheets once he was reintegrated within the team.
And it would turn out to be his career best, making 43 appearances across all competitions – 12 more than his previous Liverpool best – looking both assured and capable of leading his younger team-mates.
Plying your trade next to Virgil van Dijk can mean you are overlooked in certain quarters outside of the club’s walls, but Gomez’s star shines bright and his talent is certainly not underappreciated by those of the Red persuasion.
Joe Gomez, 2019/20
Started: 35 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 8
Unused sub: 10
Overall season rating: 9
Seizing the moment
The season started off on all the right notes for the young centre-back, featuring in the XI in the Community Shield, the opening-day win over Norwich and in the UEFA Super Cup triumph ahead of Matip and Dejan Lovren.
But it would soon be a case of biding his time, with the aforementioned duo getting the nod to partner Van Dijk when the opportunity arose in the top flight, with Gomez left to make late cameos lasting, at most, seven minutes.
The latter would see him act as one of the more senior figures within a more youthful lineup, most notably against Arsenal in a defensive line which included partner Sepp van den Berg and debutant Neco Williams.
Notably, throughout this time early in the campaign there was a sense Gomez was angling to make every minute one to impress which didn’t always go as planned, pushing to do too much as opposed to playing his natural game.
It wasn’t until the perceived pressure was off his back, with the threat of Matip and Lovren usurping him negated by their respective injuries, where he truly started to shine.
He then allowed himself the freedom to just play and find rhythm, rather than look to catch the manager’s eye.
From Bournemouth on, however, there would be no looking back.
That game was the first of seven consecutive league clean sheets and 12 starting appearances – which, alongside Van Dijk, saw only three goals conceded.
Gomez would make a further nine starts from the last 10 Premier League games of the season, playing a total of 812 minutes out of a possible 900, whilst also getting the nod in the Champions League last 16 against Atletico.
It was a contrast to his 2018/19 campaign where his early days saw him thrive before injury robbed him of the chance to complete the entire campaign as first choice.
Here, it was his consistent presence and availability which saw him return to the fore and become an immovable pillar in the champions’ defence.
Coming to the fore
“He has outstanding speed, which helps us a lot to keep our last line high; he is a really good challenger; good in one-on-one situations; football-wise, I said already, good,” Klopp said of his young centre-back earlier this year.
“The package is really nice.”
A glowing review of a player who, at times, outshone Van Dijk throughout a campaign which saw the two feature together for 38 games – of which there were five defeats, three draws and 30 wins.
The 23-year-old showed off his pace, physicality, anticipation and improved body positioning throughout, with his hunting down of Wolves’ Pedro Neto at Anfield a key highlight.
With his confidence growing game by game, Gomez’s long balls improved by leaps and bounds, adding another dimension to his otherwise defensive game which should have seen him notch an assist at Atletico away when his pinpoint delivery was headed wide by Mohamed Salah.
And having become a staple in the side, the biggest compliment you could pay was the noticeable dropoff when the trip to Watford came along, which Gomez missed due to a minor issue and the Reds fell to a 3-0 defeat – the first of the season.
The title would be wrapped up within three games, however, with Gomez key to the record of the earliest title win.
While there would be a noticeable drop in form following the restart, it is safe to say Gomez stepped into the elite bracket this season and continues to make strides towards becoming a world-class defender in his own right.
At just 23, there is still so much frightening potential ahead of him and having kept fit throughout the campaign there is now a solid foundation to use as a springboard into the next.
Where does Gomez go from here?
There were plenty of defining moments in 2019/20 for Gomez, which tested him both on and off the field.
In previous years injury has been at the forefront of any hurdle, but here the initial setbacks were from being out of the side to the media whirlwind created by the spat with Raheem Sterling, yet Gomez emerged stronger from each.
All will hold him in good stead for another year in unchartered territory as reigning Premier League champions, one where he can continue to develop as a cornerstone of any success Liverpool wish to have.
The performances following on from football’s restart will provide crucial moments to learn from as he struggled to find any rhythm as sloppy errors crept into his game – the penalty against Sterling as case in point – as will the encounter with Bournemouth‘s Callum Wilson which led to a goal prior to the enforced break.
There is no doubt that Gomez has made the position next to Van Dijk his to lose having become a defender with multiple strings to his bow, and as long as he continues to stay fit, the sky is the limit for the youngster who is still years away from his prime.
It will be new territory for him heading into next season but the wind is certainly in his sails after a transformational season to remember.
As while he was on the periphery for the latter stages of last season’s European Cup, the Super Cup, Club World Cup and Premier League title each have Gomez’s mark all over it.
Best Moment: Staying injury-free and showing his leadership potential.
Worst Moment: Conceding the penalty against Sterling after the restart.
Role next season: First choice alongside Van Dijk, it’s his position to lose now.