Gomez the iron man: Five things learned as Liverpool hold on to beat Leicester

Gomez the iron man: Five things learned as Liverpool hold on to beat Leicester

On a sunny afternoon in the midlands, Liverpool beat Leicester 1-2.

That makes it a perfect four wins from four to start the season for Jurgen Klopp’s men; the first time Liverpool have ever been able to do that in the Premier League era. It was far from a straightforward afternoon’s action, however. What did we learn?

1. Liverpool’s luck is in

Liverpool are obviously a good side, but their win at the King Power Stadium has shown that they are side whose luck is very much in. The Reds open games in a furious rhythm, flying at their opponents with great movement and interplay. But this takes great energy and nearly always sags off after they score. They then sit back and absorb pressure before breaking to add to their lead.

At least, that’s the game-plan. It does rely on them scoring the first goal in games, which is where their luck has shone through. Against Leicester they were great, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah missing presentable chances in the first 10 minutes. Then on 10 minutes Sadio Mané collected an Andrew Robertson cross and tried to take it by Harry Maguire, but he hit it straight at the big Englishman.

Except the ball deflected back off Maguire into the path of Mané almost perfectly for him to toe poke it past Kasper Schmeichel. Liverpool had that precious lead, and then retreated into themselves. But they didn’t counter with much gusto, and if any side looked like scoring it was Leicester; then the Reds managed to knick a goal from a corner right at the end of the half.

That was the goal that ended up winning them the game as they spent nearly the entire second half being outplayed by Leicester. They even handed the Foxes a goal with a shocking defensive error and still had enough to ride things out to victory. Liverpool aren’t playing well and they’re still winning. That should terrify the other clubs looking to win the Premier League.

2. James Maddison is an outlier

James Maddison is a smart player. Like, even among this current young generation of intelligent English players, Maddison stands out with his positional intelligence and movement inbetween lines of defence.

Here we have a player who spent last season with Norwich in the Championship, and the season before that on loan to Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership. Maddison hasn’t been bred in La Masia or some other European powerhouse, where positional intelligence is the most prized asset. He’s been around a handful of British clubs and still come out this composed.

All afternoon against Liverpool, Maddison drifted into spaces behind their defence and in front of their attack. He was a constant passing option for his team-mates and knew just where and when to move. All of Leicester’s good work flowed through him, and although his defensive marking and set-piece taking weren’t very impressive, his influence on the game was such that when the Foxes took him off as they chased a goal late in the game, their shape and structure fell to pieces.

3. Alisson’s risks worth taking

Alisson is a risk-taking goalkeeper. He loves to dribble by opposing strikers. This is a hugely risky strategy that, when it works, is tremendously demoralising for the opponent – it also serves to shatter their press.

But like any high-risk tactic, when it doesn’t work the failure is catastrophic. Alisson tried to dribble Kelechi Iheanacho just over an hour into this game and he clearly didn’t have the momentum to pull it off. Iheanacho dispossessed him and crossed for Rachid Ghezzal to become the first player to score against Liverpool this season and pull his team back into the match at 1-2.

It was a huge mistake, no doubt. And people will be laughing at Alisson for a very long time, no doubt. The clip will have already been gif’d and turned into a meme. That sucks for Alisson, but hopefully he continues to take those risks (well maybe not risks like that, but smarter risks) because that is the lifeblood of the game.

4. Ndidi is a colossus

When N’Golo Kanté was playing for Leicester and they won the Premier League, the Frenchman was immediately being compared to some of the best midfielders in the world. And sure, Kanté’s incredible defensive work warranted those comparisons; but why has Wilfred Ndidi not been lauded in a similar manner when he has, for all intents and purposes, replicated Kanté’s feats?

Sure, Leicester aren’t as good now, but that’s not Ndidi’s fault. That’s the rest of the team atrophying from that absurd 15/16 form they found themselves in. Ndidi has been an absolute colossus in midfield; a one-man army when it comes to stopping opposing counters dead. Liverpool found him almost impassable after the first 15 or so minutes, and it was his smart play that not only won the ball back by recycled it so quickly that Leicester could remain on the front foot. He’s a magnificent footballer.

5. Joe Gomez the iron man

Obviously Virgil van Dijk is the man. The world’s most expensive defender and a handsome fella to boot. He’s been the one that has transformed Liverpool’s defence, but he may have found his ideal partner in Joe Gomez.

With “the world’s best defender” Dejan Lovren out injured, Joe Gomez has stepped into the breach and is displaying a kind of iron man consistency that should see him retain the shirt even when the Croatian is fit again. Even Van Dijk began wobbling under Leicester’s pressure today, including playing a horror pass to Alisson for Leicester’s goal. But Gomez never wavered, not once (compare how he handled pressure to Van Dijk’s sloppiness in the lead-up to Leicester’s goal).

Gomez was rugged and composed, even covering Van Dijk when he made a mistake in trying to handle James Maddison inside the box; Gomez’s desperation block was glorious and goal-saving – keeping it 0-2 until Alisson’s error. He won’t get the glory, even for Liverpool’s defensive prowess, but Joe Gomez is fast becoming an indispensable member of the back four.