Without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez has been required to serve as Liverpool’s leader at centre-back, and Jurgen Klopp has praised the 23-year-old for showing this quality.
The partnership of Van Dijk and Gomez has been a formidable one for the Reds in recent years, but the Dutchman was firmly considered the leading man.
Gomez typically mopped up behind Liverpool’s No. 4, and excelled in the role as his counterpart, however with Van Dijk now sidelined for the rest of the season, it is a new challenge for the ex-Charlton defender.
In the absence of Joel Matip, and now Fabinho, Gomez is the most experienced senior centre-back at Klopp’s disposal, and has been tasked with leading Rhys Williams through a tough adjustment period.
Ahead of Saturday’s clash with West Ham, which is likely to see Williams start alongside Gomez, the manager praised his No. 12 for “showing his best qualities on and off the pitch.”
“Joe in particular has had to step up in recent weeks and he has grasped it in such an impressive manner,” Klopp wrote in the official matchday programme.
“Joe is young in years but has a wealth of experience.
“He knows how important he is to us in general, but in this moment showing his best qualities on and off the pitch is so valuable.
“I love that he sees what we need from him and that he relishes this opportunity.
“Sacrificing for the team has never been more critical and in Joe Gomez and all of our players we have men who embrace it and inspire us all with their approach.”
In many ways, this could be the making of Gomez, who can go from a supporting role to establishing himself as a bona fide leader at the back, which in turn should solidify his partnership with Van Dijk when he returns.
He is, naturally, not the most vocal presence, and more of a retiring character off the pitch, but alongside the likes of Williams, Nat Phillips and Billy Koumetio, he is required to take responsibility.
Since the Merseyside derby, Liverpool have been largely strong at the back, albeit not as stable as when Van Dijk was fit, and Gomez deserves real credit for his performances.
In the months prior, it was widely acknowledged that he was experiencing a drop in form, but despite accruing 142 appearances for Liverpool and Charlton already, it should be noted that he is still a very young player relative to his position.
If Gomez can continue to step up without Van Dijk, he could truly establish himself as the elite-level centre-back he has the potential to be.