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Joe Gomez stepped up as Jurgen Klopp’s new utility man – but will Arne Slot agree?

Liverpool’s current longest-serving player enjoyed more minutes than ever before in 2023/24, carving out a new role as the utility man for Jurgen Klopp.

Joe Gomez will still tell you that his preferred position is at the heart of the Reds’ defence, but the emergence of Jarell Quansah and injuries on both flanks meant he was predominantly deployed as a full-back throughout the campaign.

His own career has been hampered by a series of unfortunate fitness setbacks, so it feels somewhat apt that he was able to become the beneficiary of similar misfortune among his colleagues this time around.

It was a season in which his commitment to the cause was rewarded with everything but that elusive first professional goal, and one where he proved how much of an invaluable asset he still is to this team.

Joe Gomez, 2023/24

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 27, 2023: Liverpool's Joe Gomez celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at St James' Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 31 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 20
Unused sub: 3
Goals: 0
Assists: 3
Overall Season Rating: 8.0

 

Versatility without complaint

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 16, 2023: Liverpool's Joe Gomez during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gomez admitted as recently as November that he feels his skill-set remains best suited to operating as a centre-back, having struck up a formidable partnership with skipper Virgil van Dijk during the title-winning season of 2019/20.

As the campaign wore on, it became more and more apparent that the manager had other ideas, featuring there in just five of his 51 appearances across all competitions.

Liverpool’s No. 2 even made a couple of appearances as a defensive midfielder as we headed towards the home straight, a sign of the immense trust Klopp has been willing to place in his ability to do a job wherever required.

It might not have been his preferred route back into the side, but his stints in various spots saw him scare the goal on an almost weekly basis, and sparked debate around when he will finally end his wait to get on the scoresheet.

While an unwanted byproduct of that has been the unbearable cries of ‘SHOOT’ from the stands when picking the ball up in the opposition half, it enabled him to express himself in new-found ways.

 

A bounce-back season

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 31, 2024: Liverpool's Joe Gomez during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Wherever Gomez was asked to play, there was little to fault as far as his contribution to the side was concerned.

He continuously switched positions with the minimum of fuss and always exuded calmness, even when others around him had been guilty of losing their heads.

There is a discernible difference between the role of a left-back and a right-back at the best of times, even more so for the Reds during the final season of Klopp’s reign.

When asked to fill in for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gomez created his own interpretation of the inverted right-back position that has been taken up by the vice-skipper for the majority of the last 12 months.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's Joe Gomez during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Likewise, the man who worked his way back into the England fold earlier this year coped admirably with filling the shoes of one of the club’s greatest-ever left-backs in Andy Robertson, this time in the more traditional sense.

His influence was perhaps best demonstrated when he replaced Wataru Endo at half-time away to Crystal Palace.

He provided defensive solidity that allowed Alexander-Arnold to move into midfield, with both helping to inspire an important late turnaround at Selhurst Park.

 

But what will Slot do with him?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Virgil van Dijk captain of Liverpool poses with the trophy with Ibrahim Konate and Joe Gomez after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

Had Klopp opted to see out the final two years of his contract at Anfield, Gomez may have resigned himself to being tied to the touchlines for the foreseeable.

But as things stand, there are no shortage of variables across the pitch as we look ahead to Arne Slot‘s Liverpool.

The 26-year-old’s role has fluctuated drastically since making his debut as a fresh-faced teenager under Brendan Rodgers all the way back in August 2015.

There were no shortage of understandable calls for defensive reinforcement this time last year, with Joel Matip‘s impending departure and Ibrahima Konate‘s fitness record doing little to alleviate those concerns 12 months on.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 21, 2024: Liverpool's Joe Gomez celebrates after the FA Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC at Dean Court.Liverpool won 4-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Where that would leave Gomez remains undetermined, but the attitude he showed, at times, trying circumstances during 2023/24 proves he still has more than enough stomach for the fight.

Not since 2012 has a Liverpool manager had the luxury of a full summer and pre-season upon arrival, so we can expect plenty of fresh and funky ideas across the board as we enter this exciting new era of the football club.

You’d have to go even further back to the departure of the great Bob Paisley to find the last time we have known about such a scenario ahead of the close of the season.

It might feel like a daunting prospect for a man who has switched positions as often as Gomez has in the last year, but the very fact that he featured more times in 2023/24 than in any previous campaign is a good platform to build from.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 23, 2023: Liverpool's Joe Gomez (R) and Arsenal's Bukayo Saka during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The seemingly endless debate about Alexander-Arnold’s position is entering its eighth summer, all while question marks linger over the fitness records of Gomez’s fellow centre-backs.

Who knows, Arne might be the one to finally get a goal out of him. I’m drooling at the prospect of that celebration just picturing it.


Best moment: Pocketing Bukayo Saka twice in the space of two weeks over Christmas against Arsenal.

Worst moment: A poor display in the humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to Atalanta, but he wasn’t alone.

Role next season: Slot may look to utilise his versatility, but Gomez will no doubt be keen to nail down a regular spot in one position having already entered his peak years.