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 By Dave Usher

Joe Gomez facing uncertain future at Liverpool, Klopp must decide on him

Pre-season training began at Liverpool on Wednesday with 22 players reporting for duty. But by the time the new campaign kicks off in August at least half of those present could be lining up for other clubs.

Adam Bogdan, Connor Randall, Jon Flanagan, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, Kevin Stewart and Lazar Markovic all seem to be surplus to requirements, while there is uncertainty over the futures of Lucas Leiva and Danny Ings, who is battling back to fitness after two ACL injuries in as many years.

Others, such as Kamil Grabara, Pedro Chirivella and Ryan Kent are likely to be sent out on loan, while it remains to be seen what happens with Loris Karius and the highly promising Joe Gomez, who is attracting a lot of interest from various Championship and Premier League clubs.

The futures of most of the above seem fairly clear cut, but Gomez is the intriguing one. The former Charlton youngster is a big talent, but following an injury-plagued couple of years on Merseyside he may find that first-team opportunities could once again be scarce for him this year.

Gomez had looked set for a long and bright future at Liverpool when he forced his way into the XI at left-back at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. It was not his natural position but even so, it looked as though the Reds had signed a future star. Quick, tall, strong and composed in possession, Gomez looked totally at ease in the Premier League and the only thing lacking was experience. Unfortunately, in October 2015 he tore his ACL in the week that Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool manager.

Gomez's season was over but he worked hard and got himself fit for preseason, only to suffer another injury setback that caused him to miss the first several months of the last campaign. He made only three senior appearances last season, all in the FA Cup, but he featured regularly in the U23s and ended the season looking fit and strong.

With Europe to contend with (assuming they pass their playoff test), Liverpool will have more games this season and therefore require a bigger squad, but will there be enough opportunities for Gomez to play?

It's a tough one for Klopp, who must decide whether to send the 20-year-old out on loan or keep him around as cover and try to get him some action in the cup games.

In a perfect world, Gomez would spend the year on loan playing at centre-back for another Premier League club and his game would progress to a level whereby he would report back to Melwood this time next year ready to challenge for a full-time spot in the first-team.

Things rarely work out that way, and experience is such a vital requirement of a central defender that very few young players can hold down a regular place in the top flight. Along with goalkeeper, it's the most difficult spot for young players to break into.

With Liverpool having been burned before by loaning players to clubs who hardly used them, unless Klopp has a guarantee that Gomez will get regular football he may be better served either sending him to a Championship club or keeping him on Merseyside and splitting his time between the senior squad and the U23s.

Klopp wants to have a strong U23 side but a balance has to be struck as for some players it isn't enough of a test. While it was good for his rehabilitation it was clear to anyone who saw Gomez play in the U23s last year that he was a class above most of those around him; at times it all looked a bit too easy for him.

Joe Gomez is a real talent, but where would he be better off playing?

While more U23 football wouldn't be ideal for his development, if Klopp could somehow get Gomez 15-20 senior appearances across various competitions, then staying at Liverpool this year might be the best thing for the young defender.

Whether that is possible or not depends not just on who the Reds sign this summer, but also on who they are able to offload.

Klopp is in the market for a central defender, so presumably even if he can't resurrect a deal for Southampton's Virgil van Dijk he will be looking elsewhere for someone to challenge Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren for a starting position.

That would leave Gomez vying with Ragnar Klavan for the fourth spot in the pecking order. Gomez has the talent and physical attributes to win that battle, but perhaps not yet the experience. Klopp is also a big fan of the veteran Klavan, who has seen it all having made more over 400 club appearances and been capped 119 times by Estonia.

However, Lovren and Matip have both proven to be somewhat injury prone, so Klopp probably needs five central defenders this season, meaning any decision on Gomez perhaps hinges on what happens with Lucas Leiva, who is once again being linked with a move away.

The Brazilian provides cover in midfield and central defence and if he remains at Anfield for the final year of his contract, then Gomez would surely then have to go out on loan as there would be too many obstacles in his path to the first-team.

Assuming the injury has not taken anything away from him, Gomez is special and has the potential to become a leading Premier League defender for the next decade and more. But, having missed the bulk of the last two seasons, this is a vital year for his development. Whatever they decide to do, Liverpool simply must get this one right.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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