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The next big step Joe Gomez must take to reestablish Liverpool partnership with Virgil van Dijk; BLOOD RED: Joe Gomez has struggled with injuries in recent years and now faces another challenge to force his way back into Liverpool's starting XI.

Byline: Paul Gorst

It was an experience Joe Gomez had begrudgingly got used to at Liverpool.

Waking up in a hospital bed, fresh from surgery, Gomez was frustratingly becoming accustomed to the unwanted sensation of the local anesthetic.

The England international had awoken after going under the knife for the third time in as many years back in February, this time because of a leg fracture sustained at Burnley two months earlier.

However, as Gomez bravely prepared to face up to life once more, post-surgery, it's probable that this one hurt the most.

Sitting in his hospital bed nearly five months ago, the Liverpool first-team would have felt a long way away for the then 21-year-old.

Prior to his latest, damaging, problem, Gomez was enjoying the most fruitful period of an Anfield career that began in impressive fashion back in the summer of 2015.

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Starring alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence, Gomez was finally getting a consistent run in the position he had always craved on Merseyside.

Offering an ideal blend of pace, power and poise, he was building a formidable partnership next to Van Dijk before it was suddenly brought to a temporary halt.

Here he was, grasping his big opportunity under Jurgen Klopp with two firm grips, starting 16 of the first 20 games before a thunderous collision with Ben Mee at Turf Moor veered his season way off its course.

The surgery that was signed off by club doctors after the New Year was necessary after a hitch with his recovery and Gomez wouldn't have been blamed for privately cursing his ongoing fortunes.

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It left him on the shelf for a lengthy period, at a time when he was earning widespread recognition for his rock-solid performances alongside Van Dijk.

He wouldn't return to action until April, coming on as substitute in Porto with the Reds already secure of their passage to the semi-final of the Champions League.

By the time Gomez was fully functional once more, Joel Matip had admirably stepped into the void, delivering a catalogue of assured displays alongside the peerless Van Dijk to take the shirt.

Gomez, lamentably, from his perspective, would be forced to once more try and jam his way back into theLiverpooldefence.

It's been a familiar tale for the former Charlton Athletic teenager, who started life so brightly as an 18-year-old at Anfield in 2015.

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A short but impressive stint at left-back under Brendan Rodgers was cut short after suffering a serious knee injury in an England Under-21 game against Kazakhstan at Coventry's Ricoh Arena.

The surgeon's knife was required as Gomez was ruled out for the season with seven months of it left in October that year.

After returning to the fold in the summer of 2016, injuries would besiege him once more as an Achilles tendon problem flared up midway through the pre-season programme.

It meant Gomez would go 15 months without making a first-team appearance at Liverpool before his long-awaited comeback in January 2017.

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The setbacks were enough to play havoc with his entire season as the youngster was limited to just three appearances all season, none of which came in the Premier League.

An ankle issue picked up against on England duty in March last year then ruined his chances of playing for the Three Lions at the World Cup in Russia.

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Once more, the operating table was calling as the problem put paid to his hopes of turning out for the Reds in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

It would hugely unfair to label Gomez as injury prone, despite the string of issues, he has simply been incredibly unlucky with the series of lengthy lay-offs.

As he faces up to a big pre-season this summer however, Gomez will be acutely aware that his best chance to wrestle back the honour of being Van Dijk's partner is best achieved by staying fit.

Since joining the club four years ago, he has been restricted to just 66 appearances. In contrast, Roberto Firmino, who joined the same summer, has featured 192 times.

Chances will present themselves for Gomez this coming season with the Reds set to duel it out in more competitions than ever these next 11 months.

It's up to him to ensure he takes them in the same manner he did last year.

Once more, Gomez faces up to a significant challenge in his Liverpool career as he aims to win back his place in the European champions' lineup.

As proven, however, he is not one to shirk them. Hopefully, finally, Lady Luck will be smiling down this time around.

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Credit: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Joe Gomez and Ben Mee clash during December's game at Turf Moor

Credit: Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Joe Gomez, Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk

Credit: AP

Joe Gomez leaves the game with an injury during the international friendly match between the Netherlands and England
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Crosby Herald (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 29, 2019
Words:904
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