Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has hailed Joe Gomez’s growth from “kid” to senior defender in the absence of some big names.
Injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho left the 23-year-old as the Reds’ only recognised first-team centre-back and in recent weeks has found himself marshalling inexperienced pair Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips through matches.
Since losing Van Dijk in the Merseyside derby on October 17, Klopp’s side have conceded just two goals in five matches, one of which was a penalty, as his back four has shrugged off the loss of their main man.
Gomez is set to make his 100th league appearance at Manchester City on Sunday and Klopp believes he still has plenty more to offer.
“He’s still young, so impressive number, impressive boy. Very good, very good,” he said.
“He came here before me, so he’s here even longer than me. He played left-back, he played right-back, when Brendan (Rodgers) played with three in the back, different positions.
“He played together with Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel, all these guys, then Dejan Lovren, Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip.
“So he had so many different partners but he was always the kid in the line pretty much and that changed now obviously completely.
“And how everybody (has to) in life, we have to grow in situations like this and he did that.
“He used the last few weeks obviously, pretty much thrown in cold water if you want, and used it really well.
“(He) did really well and I’m really happy about the performances he put in. Very important for us obviously.”
Matip could be back after five matches for the short trip to the Etihad, having been an unused substitute in the midweek Champions League win over Atalanta after returning to fitness, to offer Gomez some support.
Klopp also has a decision to make with his front three as Diogo Jota scored a hat-trick in midweek after starting in place of Roberto Firmino.
The Portugal international has seven goals in 10 matches and six in his last four, scoring in each, to press his claims for another start but Klopp said it was not just a question of competition for one position.
“First and foremost, we have much more offensive players, thank God. Pretty much all of them delivered for us in their moments, if it’s Divock Origi, if it’s Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino,” he added.
“That’s really good, that’s really important. Unfortunately, it’s the only area where we have that number of players in the moment, but it’s any way good.
“It’s very good for us that Diogo could settle that quick and that he can gain confidence that early because it makes everything easier.
“So, not scoring the number of goals he has scored so far wouldn’t have made him a worse player, it would have been completely normal if he would have missed chances instead of scoring.
“But now I love it obviously, like he did it, and the way he played and the way he contributed so early.
“That’s all very positive and yes, we have more than three offensive players and they are all good. That’s why they have a contract here.”