January 2019 saw then 17-year-old Curtis Jones make his competitive bow for Liverpool’s senior side in a 2-1 FA Cup third round defeat at Wolves. Now a virtually permanent feature within the first-team squad, his rate of development since has been impressive – and there have been some genuinely outstanding moments along the way.
Indeed, Jones has been included in the matchday squad for each of the senior side’s 26 competitive outings in 2020/21 so far (including the Community Shield). A total of 13 of those have been starts.
These are statistics that reflect the additionally central role Jones has earned through the obvious talent and notable workrate he has displayed in the two years since that Monday night at Molineux.
‘Central’ can be applied somewhat literally on this occasion, in fact.
He operated on the left-wing within the 4-2-3-1 utilised by a much-changed Liverpool side on his debut – a night which also saw both Rafael Camacho and Ki-Jana Hoever make play first senior games for the club.
Camacho and Hoever may have since moved on to pastures new, but Jones’ status within the Liverpool set-up has only grown – seeing him register 31 appearances to date.
He has featured in a similar wide role at times but, generally, his first-team outings have been as one of the ‘No.8s’ within the more commonly used 4-3-3.
To do that, in itself, requires trust. To do it with the regularity he has this season – and in the games he has – requires reliability. And he has added admirable amounts of the latter to his game.
The type of player Jones is – creative, off the cuff, proactive – means he has the style, seemingly by nature. But any doubts over the substance element will have been decreasing by the week as he featured consistently in the Premier League and Champions League pre-Christmas.
James Milner spoke highly of his progress after the League Cup victory at Milton Keynes Dons in September of last season – and that was perhaps the first sign that he’d made notable strides in the minds of teammates and coaches since the Wolves game.
His debut may have been a landmark but he perhaps didn’t have as much impact on that particular game as he’d have liked and he actually gave the ball away in the buildup to Rúben Neves’ long-range winner.
A month after MK Dons, he coolly swept home the winning penalty in the following round’s shootout win over Arsenal at a raucous Anfield. The thrilling 5-5 draw which preceded the spot-kicks also saw him notch an assist for Divock Origi.Embed from Getty Images
And just a few weeks after that – in early December 2019 – Jürgen Klopp handed him his Premier League debut as a substitute at Bournemouth.
At time of writing, he has six senior goals for the club but, in truth, his first one surely remains his standout moment.
That came against Everton – again in the FA Cup third round – on the fifth day of 2020.
His stunning 25-yard curler clipped the bar on its way in in the 71st minute, sent Anfield wild and won the game for a very youthful Liverpool side against the considerably more experienced Toffees.
It was a breathtaking moment and instantly brought him to the attention of virtually anyone who was yet to become aware of his abilities.
Another goal followed in the 2-2 draw at Shrewsbury Town in the next round and he made history in the replay by becoming the youngest player to ever captain Liverpool – aged just 19 years and five days – when he skippered Neil Critchley’s under-23s to a deserved 1-0 success at Anfield.
Then, post-lockdown, he netted for the first time in the Premier League.
That came against Pepe Reina and Aston Villa in a 2-0 success on July 5 and his first league start came in the 1-1 draw against Burnley six days later.Embed from Getty Images
After switching from No.48 to No.17 – which was worn by Steven Gerrard from 2000-2004, of course – he struck twice more in this season’s lively 7-2 League Cup victory at Lincoln City, as his role continued to grow.
Multiple injuries in defence and midfield may have offered him additional opportunities during the autumn and early winter – but he grasped them admirably.
His driving runs, fleet of foot and eye for a pass have been a considerable asset to the Reds’ midfield, while he has also impressively covered the spaces behind Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson when they’ve advanced from full-back.
Those early-season contributions peaked against Ajax on December 1, though. After thumping the post early on, he niftily flicked home the second-half winner to earn Klopp’s men qualification for the Round of 16 and top spot in Group D with a game to spare.
His showings against West Brom and Newcastle over Christmas may have been less positively impactful, but those collective displays weren’t quite up to the standards of recent years either, of course.
Such moments of challenge, while generally less enjoyable, should prove highly useful for Jones in months and years to come, however.
What he is able to take from these more recent experiences and put back into the team in the weeks to come should represent another enticing challenge for an Academy graduate who is not 20 until January 30.
He’s already acquired plenty of valuable experiences – something which puts him in good stead to earn even more moments of note in what has the potential to be a long and fruitful Anfield career.
Don’t miss a thing
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox. It’s free!