Liverpool are missing hidden defensive strength which even Virgil van Dijk cannot match

With all eyes on Virgil van Dijk and a potential recovery date soon to be announced, Liverpool must also prioritise their forgotten defender and hope his hidden attributes remain present.

Does Liverpool miss Virgil van Dijk? Yes, of course it does. Has Liverpool missed Diogo Jota? Undoubtedly.

Does Liverpool need Jordan Henderson back at the earliest opportunity? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Who’s missing from that list of woes that has encompassed this season? Joel Matip? Naby Keita for most of the season?

It’s easy in many ways for Joe Gomez to slip the mind. In many senses, he is Liverpool’s quiet man —

admittedly by virtue of both personality and horrendous injury luck which has stretched the length of his Liverpool career.

Yet Liverpool’s pining for Gomez goes way beyond the conventional explanation that he’s a good foil for the colossus that is Van Dijk.

Liverpool are missing hidden defensive strength which even Virgil van Dijk cannot match

Gomez has in many ways been tarnished with the “good on the cover” brush —

the one who rides the coat tails of Liverpool’s greatest gatekeeper of all.

Quite frankly, there is so much more to the defender and his game,

which is only now being provided in his absence.

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The reintroduction of packing data from Ollie yesterday was an excellent look into data used by top-level clubs to manage performance,

in particular penetration, something labelled as “bypassing” within packing circles.

To simplify this, a bypassed player usually represents someone who has been taken out of the game with a dribble,

a pass, a vertical play of some kind by their opponent, who is then scored on its level of impact. Where Gomez comes into this for Liverpool is really quite interesting. This season on a per game average,

Jordan Henderson leads the way with 51 bypassing opponent actions, or points if you like. Yet last season Gomez was Liverpool’s most effective player in this field, creating a score of 53. This stood out more when comparing him to Van Dijk (43) and the Premier League centre-back average (38).

An example of how Packing works on a bypassing and point-scoring system.

Liverpool are missing hidden defensive strength which even Virgil van Dijk cannot match

When you dig a little deeper, this stands up to reason. According to Statsbomb, Gomez compared relatively on par with most

Premier League averages for defensive actions in 2019/20, until it came to passing attributes. There, he stood out and above in quite a significant way. His pass completion percentage of 85 to 50 reads more damning to the league. But both an unpressured long ball accuracy percentage of 96 to 51,

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and expected goal (xG) buildup percentage of 90 to 64 both tell their own story.

If packing is defined on a points based system based on the impact of an action,

then Gomez was causing a huge dent to opponents who,

for example, lineup to try and stop Trent Alexander-Arnold dictating Liverpool’s play.

It’s perhaps factored into why Trent has suffered slightly this season in terms of his overall game impact,

by not having Gomez as his right centre-back partner.

What remains most intriguing is what type of player Liverpool gets back in both Van Dijk and more so, Gomez. A player yet to hit 25-years-old but who already feels like a veteran of the club. He’s now on his way back from another huge injury, probably the worst of his career which is saying something. His team is undeniably missing him and suffering without him, just not in the way we might conventionally think. Gomez has proved that being a centre-back for Liverpool requires many assets,

and his greatest were seemingly going constantly under the radar.

This is part two of a three-part series based on the ‘Packing’ data set. Part One, on the concept of packing and Thiago Alcantara, can be found here. Part Three, on Packing’s use in scouting and the future of data will be out on Monday.

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