These are harrowing times for Liverpool supporters.
Worried brows appeared after Jordan Pickford, recklessly, connected with Virgil van Dijk’s hyperextended knee in Saturday’s frantic finale to a frantic drawn derby at Everton.
Such was the velocity of the out-of-control impact and unforgiving angle of the Netherlands centre-back’s locked leg, it’s fair to assume he won’t be seen in red until next year. A meaningful role in the remaining months of the club’s title defence can be seriously questioned, ahead of consultations with a medical expert later on Sunday.
With the transfer window closed until January, internal solutions are needed. Enter, Joe Gomez.
Fate would have it that the most-unstable run of form in the 23-year-old’s staccato career has coincided with his employers’ moment of great need.
A defining campaign awaits for a player of whom so much is, both, expected and unrealised.
No-one can realistically question the innate ability possessed by Gomez. True greatness is highlighted in those who make football, a simple game of limitless variety, appear uncomplicated and unrushed.
They can, however, question Gomez’s utilisation of these gifts.
Laudable performances at the turn of 2020 after Joel Matip’s injury are bookended by a disastrous showing against Manchester City in last season’s Community Shield, plus a loose penalty concession during the only incident he was required to defend in September’s eventful 1-0 win for England against Iceland and being hooked after a calamitous hour in a 7-2 loss at Aston Villa.
Forced out of the long shadow cast by his illustrious partner, he will need to organise a backline which has kept one clean sheet from 10 Premier League matches. This statistic, in itself, would point to gremlins at the back, yet the imperious Van Dijk’s enforced removal is the antithesis of a viable solution.
Gomez exists as an intriguing prospect. When in full, balletic flow, comparisons to club-great Alan Hansen are not unkind to the Scot.
His 76 Premier League appearances have come without officially any errors leading to goals. Raking cross-field balls to Sadio Mane are also a key component of Liverpool’s tactics, when deployed.
Parallels were made about the multifaceted Daniel Agger during an unfulfilled Anfield stint. These now make uncomfortable reading.
A similar series of serious injuries have curtailed Gomez’s involvement since July 2015’s switch from Charlton Athletic.
They have sapped momentum and stunted growth. Matthijs de Ligt of Juventus is two-years younger, yet counts 26 more senior league appearances than his English contemporary’s 97.
Gomez must grow up. Fast.
Maturity is an important facet. The game comes so easily to him, there are incidents when a sense of alarm is absent.
Bold Atletico Madrid, in particular, took advantage of this during March’s Champions League elimination.
Lackadaisical jibes were directed at Van Dijk in his formative years at Celtic and Southampton. He could, however, form away from Liverpool’s fierce spot light.
Gomez has now been thrust into its unrelenting glare. A positive response is essential.
Dejan Lovren’s summer departure to Zenit Saint Petersburg meant Jurgen Klopp’s “mentality monsters” came into 2020/21 with only three senior centre-backs on their books, anyway.
There appears little desire to redeploy Fabinho from defensive midfield. England Under-21 call-up Rhys Williams, 17-year-old Frenchman Billy Koumetio and the callow Sepp van den Berg are all prospects for the medium or long term.
It is neither unfair or unrealistic to argue Gomez’s contribution, for good or bad, will define an uncertain 2020/21 at Anfield.
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