Not so long ago, the idea of Liverpool conceding just once in their opening four Premier League games would have been unimaginable.
At the same stage of the 2017/18 campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s side had shipped eight goals, including a 5-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City.
As they travel to Wembley to face Tottenham this weekend, the most obvious change in personnel comes in between the sticks – though that comes with the caveat that Alisson was at fault for the only time the defences have been breached this season.
However, a much-improved back four must take credit too, with Joe Gomez at the heart of so much of the Reds’ recent good work.
Moved from right-back to centre-back, both to accommodate the equally mature Trent Alexander-Arnold and to fill a notable void in the middle of the defence, the 21-year-old has inevitably progressed by working alongside a player of Virgil van Dijk’s calibre.
In a fixture that was originally supposed to be the curtain-raiser for the north Londoners’ new stadium, plenty of eyes will be on Gomez as he and his team-mates face undoubtedly the biggest test of their title credentials so far.
The England international can take comfort in not having to face Dele Alli, who has been ruled out through injury. There appears to be a growing concern in the Lilywhites’ camp too, that Harry Kane is showing signs of burnout despite the striker scoring a respectable two goals in four games.
This is a Spurs attack, nonetheless, that put three past Manchester United at Old Trafford and looked very threatening once they hit top gear against Fulham. In their season opener against Newcastle, they were not at 100% and yet found a way to score twice. The task facing Gomez will not be an easy one, despite the obvious challenges facing Mauricio Pochettino’s outfit.
In last season’s 4-1 defeat, Dejan Lovren lasted an error-laden 31 minutes at the national stadium before being taken off, but this year Klopp will not need to have any such contingency plans in place.
Gomez is physically very strong, an asset that a fortnight ago, Watford used to combat Tottenham’s creativity very effectively. While he has endured significant struggles with injuries for a player so young, he now looks in good enough shape to put a run of games together.
Unsurprisingly, it took a while for him to overcome the after-effects of an anterior cruciate ligament tear, suffered in October 2015, not long after moving to Anfield from Charlton in a £3.5million deal. He has also had to navigate a curious situation at the club, whereby they have had ample options in his position, yet none of them have looked particularly convincing.
It took minor injuries to Lovren and Joel Matip, plus the departure of Ragnar Klavan, to really give Gomez his opportunity. When he initially entered the first team as a full-back, he had to seize his chance with Nathaniel Clyne on the sidelines. It might have been Nathaniel Phillips or Conor Masterson given the nod, but Gomez’ versatility has proved a huge advantage.
Fate has been relatively kind to him in that respect, but it is still remarkable how quickly he has developed. In the 2-1 victory over Leicester, as Van Dijk and Alisson combined disastrously for the Foxes’ goal, their more inexperienced team-mate could be seen imploring the Dutchman not to make the pass.
Against Spurs, Klopp will be hoping for more of the same ability to read the game. What makes Gomez reasonably similar to Van Dijk is that in spite of his bulk, he can be very quick when he wants to be. Indeed, he will have little choice if he is to cope with the threat of Lucas Moura, who won the Premier League’s August Player of the Month thanks to his three goals.
Alli’s absence, together with Son Heung-min only returning to training on Thursday, means Spurs’ line-up could be somewhat unpredictable. Erik Lamela could feature and if he is fully fit and on form, his positioning and trickery could make him an intriguing opponent for the Reds’ blossoming new defensive partnership.
Liverpool will fear a reaction given the performance at Vicarage Road prior to the international break. Perhaps they will not fear a repeat of what happened in the same fixture last season, but Klopp will know all too well that they require another solid defensive display if they are to continue their perfect start to the campaign.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.