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Under the skies of Anfield, Liverpool and Manchester City met in a highly anticipated matchup. Both managers Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola deployed strong lineups as expected, with the exception of a couple tactical changes, which is always necessary to keep the opponent guessing. For Klopp, this change was shifting Joe Gomez to the right back spot and slotting Dejan Lovren in at center back.

There are a couple of logical reasons for this change. Klopp wanted to firm up the back line as the usual right back Trent Alexander-Arnold tends to play very high up the pitch. While the 20-year-old excels at that, Klopp decided he wanted to make sure the defense had the numbers to withstand a strong attack, thus playing Gomez who tends to stay further back. Gomez is also more capable of tackling the ball away from wingers such as Sterling than Alexander-Arnold.

(fig. 1) Gomez’s heat map against Manchester City. (fig. 2) Alexander-Arnold’s heat map against Chelsea. Mirror images of each other, you can clearly see Alexander-Arnold plays further up the pitch far more often than Gomez.

Gomez Defending Attacks

One defensive skill Gomez is excellent at is reading would-be attacks. There are numerous examples in the match which display how keeping the numerical advantage at the back was key to defending Manchester City’s many attacks.

(fig. 1) In this instance, Bernardo Silva is on a counter-attack down his left half-space. Raheem Sterling is making a run down his left side, and Gomez matches his stride, which is not at full speed. (fig. 2) Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy overlaps Sterling on the outside at a full sprint. Gomez quickly picks this up and accelerates to maintain his distance ahead of Mendy- all while watching Silva. Not only does this eliminate any attempts of a pass. It also slows Silva down due to hesitation, allowing other Liverpool players to close in on him.

This effective method in which Gomez halted a number of attacks is called a cover-shadow. It is a vital defensive act in the Gegenpressing system, as it takes away any outlets the pressed opponent would have.

Gomez’s defensive positioning also gave his teammates an outlet at the back when Manchester City’s attackers would press. The strength of Gomez eventually forced Manchester City to look elsewhere for an advantage, as Gomez continued to stay back during most of Liverpool’s possession.

Gomez Attacking Defenses

This is not to say Gomez never attacked, however. There were multiple instances throughout the match when Gomez would push forward, usually with the ball, in attempts to either play a through ball or to whip in a cross. One such cross nearly created a goal as it met Daniel Sturridge’s head, only to sail wide. In these cases, one of either Jordan Henderson or Lovren would fall back or shift over respectively, covering the space Gomez would normally occupy (this type of partnership was also used on the left side of the pitch, with James Milner often covering for Andrew Robertson).

(fig. 1) While Gomez is more reliable in defense than Alexander-Arnold, it is the opposite in attack. Here, Gomez receives the ball and attempts to carry it forward, but instead of driving down the touchline as Alexander-Arnold would do, he hesitates when Fernandinho presses him and tries to cut inside. Gomez loses the ball, nearly resulting in a Manchester City shot on goal were it not for… (fig. 2) Gomez! His defensive instincts tell him that when the ball is lost he should (usually) track back to recover his area of defense. In this case, he hustles back and blocks Sterling’s cross out for a corner.

There was proof even in just a couple of these moments that Manchester City were definitely capable of taking advantage of the space behind the defenders.

Even after Sterling was taken off in the 75th minute, Manchester City didn’t have much luck down Gomez’s side, until the 84th minute. After a mistake in possession by Liverpool, substitute Leroy Sané recognizes the space behind the forward-positioned Gomez. David Silva sees Sané making the run, and with Lovren, the man who has covered for Gomez when the full-back moves forward, marking Gabriel Jesus, this overload created a man advantage at the back. Sané’s run into the box forced Virgil van Dijk to attempt a tackle, which resulted in a penalty.


On the tail end of an extremely difficult part of Liverpool’s schedule, it is not far-fetched to say Klopp can be satisfied with this result. Coaching a major football club isn’t just about managing tactics – it’s about managing energy too. Shifting Gomez outside to cover for Alexander-Arnold after Trent looked exhausted post-Napoli was a smart decision, and it paid dividends through smart, conservative defending. Gomez will also certainly be satisfied with his performance, as it proves how valuable a defender he can be.

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