Joe Gomez managed to do something for Liverpool that even Virgil van Dijk has struggled to do when he has played against Aston Villa in recent times.
Without Virgil van Dijk, there was a bit of trepidation coming into the Aston Villa game at the weekend for Liverpool. In the past, and even last season, Liverpool had struggled without the new club captain. Naturally, his suspension was regarded as a major blow.
However, the Reds ought not to worry. To be entirely fair to the Liverpool players on the pitch, they made it look as if Jürgen Klopp’s side wasn’t really missing Van Dijk at all.
Despite coming up against a resurgent Aston Villa side on a goal-scoring spree, having scored 16 goals in their last four games, Liverpool managed to keep a clean sheet and was never really troubled. The defense stood firm to almost any challenge, which is all the more impressive considering Aston Villa has only failed to score against Liverpool in one of the last seven matches prior to this game.
Much of that should be credited to the brilliant way Joe Gomez has come into the side after Van Dijk’s red card against Newcastle. Gomez hasn’t put a foot wrong. He’s been reliable and impenetrable.
Out of center-backs in the Premier League who have contested at least five aerial duels, Gomez is the only one to have not lost one.
Against Aston Villa, in Ollie Watkins, Gomez was coming up against a player who historically has had a good time against Liverpool and has often caused Virgil van Dijk problems. Watkins is joint sixth on the all-time list of Premier League goalscorers against Liverpool with five goals.
He’s always been a threat against Liverpool, starting with that 7-2 defeat almost three years ago now.
But Gomez came in and completely neutralized Watkins to the extent that people may have not even noticed he was on the pitch. Even Van Dijk hasn’t been able to put on such a dominant display against the Aston Villa forward, and that makes Gomez’s game on Sunday all the more impressive.
He hasn’t been helped by injuries throughout his career. But he is only 26 years old, and for a centre-back that means he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. With so much experience under his belt for Liverpool, if Gomez can continue in the same run of form, he has every chance of getting back to his best self before all the injury problems.
He was phenomenal during Liverpool’s Premier League title-winning campaign in 2019/20, and in the 2018/19 season as well.
He has suffered a few setbacks since then, but Gomez has now shown glimmers once again of the kind of center-back he could still be for Liverpool.
Comfortable on the ball, fast and alert to every danger, apart from a small mishap when he slipped, he didn’t put a foot wrong against Aston Villa, and controlled the game from the center-back position.
He completed the most passes in the game (103) and with his aerial dominance, he was almost Van Dijk-esque in his performance. Klopp will hope there is more to come. He has always staunchly backed Gomez to succeed, and his loyalty not to sell him is now paying dividends.