If I’d told you a couple months back that there would actually be a silver lining to Liverpool’s seemingly endless injury crisis that’s seen the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and James Milner disappear from Jurgen Klopp’s midfield ranks, you’d have called me crazy. But when academy graduate Curtis Jones was asked to step up in the midst of adversity, he did so emphatically.
Jones’ ascendancy has been a curious one. He wasn’t touted for particularly great heights whilst he was plying his trade in the academy. Instead, the spotlight was mostly occupied by the likes of Harry Wilson, who was banging in goals for fun (but could never quite replicate that form at the top level), or Rhian Brewster, who’s since moved on to Sheffield United and made little impact.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, whom I’m sure we can all label as an unequivocal academy success, received plenty of positive reviews himself before truly bursting onto the scene. Steven Gerrard was waxing lyrical about the young defender in his autobiography long before we’d even seen him play. Alexander-Arnold also went on to receive rave reviews for cameos and cup appearances before he transformed into arguably the world’s best right-back.
So how did Jones, almost out of nowhere, cement his place in the current starting XI? If anything, it’s probably a reminder that youth footballers develop and ‘break through’ at a vast variety of ages and stages; you can never and should never write off a young prospect after a bad spell.
But, even more excitingly, Jones holds the potential to be more than a mere stopgap whilst his more experienced and celebrated teammates recuperate. In a Klopp side where midfielders have always had very defined positions, with specific roles and esoteric specialities, Curtis Jones is a maverick.
He is, of course, diligent in defence, and seems to bear a useful propensity for winning the ball in key areas that allow for quick counterattacks. Many will have noticed that he’s also made a habit of making late runs into the box and taking shots on – he’s probably unfortunate to not boast more than that Champions League goal against Ajax in his tally.
But most importantly, the youngster has demonstrated an eagerness to take players on and show off a bit of skill – that run late against Fulham comes to mind. In an era where midfield conservatism is overvalued, Jones’ unadulterated attacking flair is refreshing. As good as they are, it’d be hard to argue that any one of Liverpool’s other midfielders bears the homogenous blend of qualities that Jones does.
If Jones does retain his place in the side for the long-term, which I have every confidence he will, he could be the catalyst for a revolution in the Reds’ midfield. Together with the likes of Thiago, we could see Liverpool’s previously rigid and conservative midfield three become a more dynamic trio that strikes as much fear into the hearts of the opposition as the attacking trident does.