When Virgil van Dijk went down on Saturday, we all held our collective breath.
The Dutchman has been imperious since his January arrival. He has completely revolutionised our defence and has made us an altogether different proposition. The thought of him being out long term is not a palatable one to say the least.
However, after being helped from the field in the second half of the comfortable 3-0 win against Southampton, the injury was thankfully found to be not too serious. Van Dijk has been suffering from a rib injury and the innocuous collision was enough to force him from the field.
The Netherlands skipper was replaced by Joe Gomez, who was rotated out from the team in favour of Joel Matip. It was an easy enough situation for him to step into, the game was long dead. So much so in fact, Jürgen Klopp elected to treat the second half as a training exercise, complete with formation experimentation.
But the young centre half was fearless and within moments of entering the field was taking the ball off Shane Long and moving the ball on, putting the Reds back on the attack.
I obviously don’t want a situation where Van Dijk isn’t playing, but Gomez was not overawed by the prospect of filling in for him and proved this with a mature, aggressive and yet highly composed substitute appearance.
I attribute a lot of Gomez’ confidence to being his first choice partner for the first five games of the season. With Klopp shuffling some of his deck for the visit of the Saints, it was a chance for Joel Matip to make his first start. He’s still feeling his way back from injury but I honestly think that Gomez has forced his way past the Cameroonian now.
A long period of time playing alongside van Dijk has seen a huge increase in Gomez’ confidence. At 21, Gomez is still very young for a centre half. He showed his rawness at right back last season at times, but he has moved inside this season with a great deal of ease.
Playing next to arguably the finest centre half in world football has no doubt been a huge part of this, but Gomez has more than made his mark on the position.
He has made mistakes that have resulted in chances but has made massive contributions into our 100% start to the season. He made key interventions in the game at Leicester and at Wembley against Spurs and our defence has looked very solid for the most part so far.
Van Dijk is obviously getting the majority of the credit for this, and rightly so, but Gomez has played his part along with the two excellent full backs. Liverpool currently have the best defence in the Premier League. Gomez has been and is a key part of this.
I would hope that Gomez won’t too often fill in for Van Dijk and currently, those two are the best partnership that we have in defence. I want to see them play alongside and complement each other as Gomez continues to learn his trade at the centre of a defence. But Klopp does have a series of interesting decisions to make on the horizon.
With Dejan Lovren making a return to full training, he is an outside bet to make an appearance in the Carabao Cup against Chelsea on Wednesday. Joel Matip will also likely play as he continues his return from injury. With Virgil obviously his number one choice and Gomez in good form, it will be hard for Lovren and Matip to stake their claim.
It is also testament to the squad that Klopp suddenly has at his disposal that we have such depth in the central defensive positions. And Joe Gomez deserves a lot of praise for being the other first choice as it stands.
*all odds are subject to change