The opening page of Curtis Jones’ story as a first-team Liverpool player didn’t start as he would have liked.
His debut had come against a strong Wolves side who had just dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup in a 2-1 victory. In an eleven that consisted of an injured Dejan Lovren, Ki-Jana Hoever – who would replace the injured Croat – Alberto Moreno and Rafael Camacho, he wasn’t really given the opportunity to shine as defensive priorities came first.
In a season in which the Reds were relentlessly pursuing the league title and still in the Champions League, an early cup exit was little to complain about. The fact that a youth player who looked like a boy amongst men was quickly forgotten as fans turned towards higher priorities.
Flashforward to the following year. Curtis Jones was once again given a tough assignment in which to shine. The prospect of playing their biggest rivals at such an early stage of the FA Cup had no bearing on Klopp’s team selection as he recalled Nat Phillips from his loan in Germany, and named a midfield three of Pedro Chirivella, Adam Lallana and Jones.
Prior to the fixture, the tie was classed as Everton’s best chance to end their Anfield hoo-doo. Who could forget what transpired? Everton’s first half dominance culminated in no goals and it seemed the somewhat flat second half was heading to an inevitable replay. However, Curtis Jones had other ideas.
With another opportunity seemingly passing him bye – like the Wolves fixture a year prior – the Scouser stepped up and curled a delicious effort over Jordan Pickford and into the top right corner of the Blues goal. This sparked pandemonium around Anfield with the youngsters strike enough to see off Ancelotti’s side and send the Reds through.Embed from Getty Images
This was the first time 20-year-old showed signs of leadership, taking responsibility that day to ensure his team was on the winning side. The quality shown on that day and since also means – as the current squad stands – he is always a strong contender for the midfield.
Since scoring in that Merseyside derby, the Englishman has not looked back. He has been one of the shining lights in an injury-ravaged season for Liverpool. The removal of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson from midfield, coupled with Thiago’s injury-hit few months, gave Jones an opportunity many would have failed to grasp.
He’s contributed four goals this season, one of which secured Liverpool’s place in the last sixteen of the Champions League whilst another settled what could have otherwise been a nervy second half against Sheffield United. In spite of his clear qualities on and off the ball, what never fails to amaze about Jones is that, regardless of his youth, he never shies away from taking the ball.
All this begs the question of what to do with those other midfielders that lie on the periphery. Providing this injury crisis is not a bizarre curse after Liverpool’s league win, Liverpool’s top midfield would likely include Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago. Providing that Gini Wijnaldum departs, that leaves Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta as best suited to providing a back-up to the number eight role.
The former, despite playing a somewhat undervalued role in last season’s title charge, has struggled with injuries. At the time of writing, he has made seven appearances in the Premier League but only two starts. Moreover, that added dimension which Ox used to bring with his goals, now seems like a quality that Jones could provide.
Given FSG’s reluctance to spend without sales, and Liverpool’s clear need for a fourth choice CB along with someone to bolster their attacking prowess, Ox perhaps could be moved on if he fails to make many more appearances. After all, he’s still 27-years-old and – when fit – could make his way into the majority of midfields in the Premier League. Regardless of anybody’s thoughts on this, the fact is Jones has now made himself a viable option.
We should not confuse Jones’ good form though with experience. At such a young age, there is of course room for improvement and, when the time finally comes for Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to move back into midfield, opportunities may become less frequent for a time. After all, fans have been quick to point out the nature in which Rhys Williams has struggled at times.Embed from Getty Images
There are times between now and his peak when Jones may not have the same impact in games, but that should not undermine his quality. The return of Diogo Jota may even see a return to the 4-2-3-1 given Liverpool’s injuries in midfield and the fact that it may be the time we see the best out of Thiago.
For now, though, he’s been the shining light in what at times has been a dark season. Long may his progression and good form continue and if it does, the Reds’ could have another very special Scouse talent on their hands.
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