The start of Liverpool’s season has been played amid a backdrop of injury problems for Jurgen Klopp.
There are issues all over the pitch for the German to think about at the moment, with Darwin Nunez’s three-game suspension adding to a mountain of injuries in defence and midfield. The hamstring injury sustained by Thiago Alcantara during the opening game of the season against Fulham has attracted the most attention – coming when Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and Naby Keita were all also absent – but injuries in defence are also severe.
Klopp is currently without both Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate, who would ordinarily compete to play alongside Virgil van Dijk in central defence. Matip sustained a groin injury ahead of the Crystal Palace game on Monday and is expected to be out for two weeks, while Konate picked up a knee problem in Liverpool ’s final pre-season friendly of the summer against Strasbourg on July 30.
Those problems prompted Klopp to turn to Nat Phillips against Palace, with the towering defender picked to start alongside Van Dijk. However, the 25-year-old struggled against the pace of Wilfried Zaha and was substituted in the second half for Joe Gomez, who had been deemed only fit enough for the bench.
Gomez climbed off the bench and proceeded to put in an assured performance which reminded those who needed reminding just how good he is. The 25-year-old’s time at Liverpool can be split into two sections: pre-injury and post-injury, such was the impact of his ruptured patella tendon in late 2020.
Before he suffered the injury, Gomez was Van Dijk’s first-choice partner at the back. During the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns the former Charlton man was fantastic. In those two seasons the duo lost just eight of 37 matches in which they both played 90 minutes together.
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Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool with Joe Gomez of Liverpool during a training session
Both of Liverpool’s central defenders suffered serious season-ending injuries in late 2020. They grew even closer while in the treatment room and, now, with Konate and Matip unavailable, they should be reunited on the pitch for Monday night’s trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United, who are bottom of the Premier League table following losses to Brighton and Brentford.
Van Dijk is in no doubt that, after a difficult few years due to injuries, 2022/23 is Gomez’s season to shine. “He is, in my opinion, [one of] if not the best English centre-back around. Obviously we’ve both been very unlucky with the injuries we had,” he said last month. “Obviously his time will come again and hopefully this season he can show that.”
That is high praise indeed, but probably something that Klopp would echo, having sanctioned a new five-year contract for Gomez in July. Gomez himself is confident in his own ability and his teammates.
“I think I have the platform here to do it with the manager and the coaching staff around me and my teammates, to make sure the best years are ahead,” he said last month. “I think as a group, the sky’s the limit. We want to go one, if not two, better than last season and aim for it all. We definitely have the ability to do that and the belief is there, it’s just about us taking it one game at a time.” All of that can start for Liverpool at Old Trafford on Monday.