Is Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez the Premier League's best centre-back pairing?
Last winter, Liverpool smashed the world record by signing Virgil van Dijk for £75 million. To purchase his centre-half partner, Joe Gomez, the Reds spent less than 1% of that fee. The pair has since formed an admirable partnership. Unexpectedly, they’re gradually attracting veneration in the Premier League.
Liverpool were exciting to watch last season. They played a brand of football only bettered by Manchester City. The Reds had one terrible flaw, though. While their attack rained goals, they leaked from the rear. The effect was telling. The Anfield outfit won nothing, just as I had predicted.
Liverpool’s defensive problems were glaring to even the simplest of minds. With no time to waste, Jurgen Klopp broke his word regarding extravagant transfers. In doing so, he agreed to sign the game's most expensive libero.
Everyone would agree, Van Dijk's impact wasn't immediate. Klopp struggled to find the utopian combination in his rearguard. Of course, all things revolved around VVD. He was an upgrade on every centre-back on the Reds' payroll. No disrespect to Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, the Dutchman lacked a suitable partner.
The closest Liverpool came to clasping a trophy last season was the Champions League. They contested the competition's showpiece against Real Madrid. In that final, Van Dijk paired Lovren at the back. They shipped three times. The defenders can be faulted for two, the other was a horrendous error by Loris Karius. The truth is, the game brought the Reds' defensive frailties to the fore once again.
As the new campaign neared, Klopp’s biggest problem was becoming even more threatening. Lovren complained of playing through the World Cup with a stomach problem – the club confirmed he’ll need one month to heal. Matip picked up a thigh injury in pre-season and won’t be fully fit until mid-September. Meanwhile, Ragnar Klavan was allowed to join Cagliari.
The situation left Liverpool in a mire. With Van Dijk and Gomez the only fully fit centre-backs, they had to make do with the available, not the desirable. A partnership between the big money and low-cost defenders, few expected much.
Surprisingly, one month later, Klopp is sure to have a selection headache when other centre-halves return. Van Dijk and Gomez have synced with a connection stronger than 4G.
Credit must be given to Gomez. Since joining the Reds in 2015, he’d never been given the chance to play in preferred position. The 21-year-old could've passed for a wingback. He's not. Perhaps due to his robust pace, most viewed him as a perfect option at right-back. Still, he was scarcely used. The Catford-born defender started only 29 league matches in three years. Installed as a mainstay centre-back to begin this campaign, he has been an absolute revelation.
A stellar defensive partnership only occurs when two players complement one another. They must do the little things well. Enter Gomez and Van Dijk. In terms of pace, both are fast, yet the Englishman is the faster. He often clamps down on speedy attackers while his Dutch teammate, possessing more muscle and tact, sweeps away all remaining problems.
Both men are over six-feet tall, although Van Dijk is two inches taller, they’re each a joy to watch in aerial battles. Gomez has learned fast from the Netherlands captain. Martin Keown described them as 'a pair of Rolls-Royces.'
The results provide a telling story. Liverpool have won every Premier League game so far this campaign. In doing so, they've conceded the fewest goals in the division while keeping the most clean sheets. Breached just once but yet to be outclassed, that Leicester City goal was a result of the voices in Alisson Becker's head.
Inevitably, the accolades will pour in. It’s already started. Van Dijk was nominated for August's Premier League Player of the Month Award. For Joe Gomez, cementing his place in Liverpool’s first-team is a good start. The pair top England's elite as things stand. Can others catch up after the international break?