“It’s no secret that I’ve had setbacks in the last few years but I’ve done my best to try and bounce back from them and make things right.”
That is what the centre-back said back in October. At that point he was in the England squad and impressing in the heart of the Reds backline after three stop-start years at Anfield because of injury problems.
But on Wednesday night, a collision with the advertising hoardings after a tackle from Burnley’s Ben Mee resulted in Gomez suffering a leg fracture. He will be out for at least six weeks.
The injury raises an important question: how will Liverpool fare without him and will he be able to force his way back into the side when he returns?
Why Gomez is so good?
“He has a mentality that reminds me of Bobby Moore,” Tony Cascarino wrote in The Times. “He does the simple things so well. He sees the ball and goes and wins it. He spots danger and cuts it out. He sees a pass and plays it. Simple.”
In his analysis of Gomez’s game, he certainly isn’t wrong, but comparing him to a World Cup-winning captain is a bit much this early in his career. He’s still only 21, after all.
The simplicity in his game points to good decision-making, though. There aren’t the errors that can lead to players running themselves into a trap and having to overcomplicate things. It’s no surprise that Jürgen Klopp is a fan.
“When you see Joe Gomez playing in that role tonight as a central defender, he combines a lot of things you don’t find in the transfer market to be honest,” he said in the summer at the International Champions Cup.
That Gomez is still so young is all the more impressive. What’s particularly striking is the control he has over his body. This sounds a silly thing to say about a footballer, but young players tend to have a number of years where they’re still getting taller and stronger and generally growing into themselves.
Balance — such a key part of a defender’s game as they have to be ready to turn on a sixpence to chase a striker — can be thrown off by this in particular.
But Gomez had his growth spurt early and that will probably have helped him in this respect.
“Joe was always physically advanced at a young age,” Jason Euell, one of Gomez’s youth coaches at Charlton, has said.
“He was one of those where his body was in line with his growth. Some boys shoot up quickly and become a little bit gangly, but his body kept pace with his growth.”
Going on without Gomez
Thankfully, from a Liverpool fan’s point of view, the club are well-stocked at centre-back. Dejan Lovren and Joël Matip are both experienced players who can come into the team in Gomez’s absence – Klopp even said during the summer that Fabinho can step into the back-line if needed.
Liverpool’s defensive system is very stable in terms of what it asks of its central defenders.
This is shown by the fact that the persona radars of the past two seasons’ centre-backs look practically the same. Gomez’s is only different because his crossing and blocking will have been influenced by his odd appearances at right-back.
This means that Lovren will be able to slip back into the line-up, and, if Matip is called upon, he shouldn’t be out of place either. He has played a similar role to the current one in his past two seasons at Liverpool.
So that’s the good news in the short-term for the Reds. But how will Gomez be on his return? This was shaping up to be a landmark season for the youngster, breaking into the starting line-up for both club and country.
Here, Gomez’s unfortunate injury history will help him cope with the setback.
“You grow a lot during times like that,” he’s said of his injuries, including a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament shortly after moving to his current club. “I’d moved to Liverpool by myself, so to get a setback like that wasn’t easy.
“It took a lot out of me, but I learnt a lot as well – about my body and about myself. It put a lot of things into perspective for me.”
It’s clear that Gomez’s level-headed manner playing the game extends to how he acts off the field as well. That’s a good sign for Liverpool.
The injury is a point to pause for reflection though. A 21-year-old has taken on the role of starting centre-back with ease. Were it not for Liverpool’s good depth in the position, he’d be missed by the team.
That’s seriously impressive and shows how good Gomez really is.