As as the case for most of us this summer, Joe Gomez was likely sat on a couch watching England. At the time, the Liverpool defender will have felt a pang of disappointment that the tournament in Russia came too soon for him. A month and a half later he will be delighted he missed out. His absence has propelled his career forward.
For Liverpool, he has benefitted because of Dejan Lovren’s absence. The Croatia defender’s semifinal appearance had already set him up to miss the start of the Premier League season, A stomach problem from the end of last season worsened during the World Cup, ensured his absence.
As a result, Gomez has found himself thrust into the heart of the Reds defence. For some around Anfield, it was about time. They believe Gomez is the real long-term partner for Virgil van Dijk. His performances in Liverpool’s first four games have justified their faith.
To say the 21-year-old has grasped his opportunity with both hands would be an understatement. Like James Milner in defensive midfield, Gomez has been something of a revelation. The praise has been plentiful as a result. Last weekend’s win over Leicester City was his best showing to date. At the front of the queue of people dishing out praise was Martin Keown on Match of the Day.
The former defender made 585 Premier League appearances over his career, winning three titles in the process. He was also a member of Arsenal’s Invincibles. It’s fair to say he knows a defender when he sees one. Analysing the young centre-back, Keown was almost gushing
It was all deserved too. Gomez had been nothing short of exceptional. Playing alongside Van Dijk, you would have been forgiven for forgetting who was the most expensive defender in world football. Everything that Leicester threw at the Liverpool defence, the youngster had an answer for. For a start, his reading of the game was nothing short of superb. When that didn’t pay off, his pace proved ample enough to deal with the worst of situations.
Tackling and blocking were on point too. Indeed, one flying block to deny James Maddison a clear goalscoring chance will go down on his personal highlight reel. In a shaky performance from his team, it was the difference between one point and three.
Most eye-catching was Gomez’s performance with the ball at his feet. Not only was he calm on the ball, he was also excellent with his distribution. Keown’s analysis was full of examples but there were plenty more besides it. An 86% pass success rate was 1% lower than the top five performers in the game.
Like Keown, England manager Gareth Southgate will have been left impressed also. Sat in the stands of the KingPower Gomez’s performance won’t have gone unmissed. It should have made Southgate consider the youngster’s immediate England future. He could be the answer the Three Lions have been seeking.
The World Cup provided Southgate with the perfect testing ground to play three at the back and it proved a relative success. It also showed, though, that another centre-back needed to be found. John Stones and Harry Maguire proved themselves but Kyle Walker is best left as the flying full-back that shines for Manchester City.
England need another centre-back and Gomez fits the bill. Quick, intelligent and comfortable on the ball he would fit in perfectly. He would also compliment Stone and Maguire next to him and allow Walker to move back out wide. Bringing him in presents nothing but positives for the Three Lions.
This international break provides him with the perfect opportunity to drop Gomez in. Fixtures against Spain and Switzerland are tough but Gomez has proven he is capable. A player like him is needed in both.
Spain are likely to throw plenty of pace at England’s defence and the pacey Gomez is ideal to help combat it. , his distribution and confidence on the ball is key against an opponent that will look to dominate the possession. Against Switzerland, it’s the opposite. The Swiss be a low block frustration and another central defender who is confident coming out of defence with the ball helps against that.
England have to start planning for the future and Gomez is showing he should be a part of it. This international week provides Southgate with the chance to start the process. Spain and Switzerland could be ideal opponents.
An immediate place in the England defence would be justified. His start to this season has been nothing short of excellent. Missing out on the World Cup may just have been the best thing that could have happened to him.
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