Amid the daily uncertainty and growing speculation that surrounds the transfer saga’s concerning Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara, there is an added pressure for one particular Liverpool midfielder to step up next season.
That player is Curtis Jones, who is expected to play a more prominent role in Jurgen Klopp’s team this season having burst onto the scene following an outstanding second-half to the 2019/20 campaign.
Jones, 19, has been touted for greatness for some time now having starred as the cornerstone of Steven Gerrard’s U18 side before progressing to the senior set-up at Melwood in the latter stages of the 2017/18 season where the teenager made his Premier League debut during a goalless stalemate with Everton in April 2018.
The long route to stardom
Since his introduction to the team, Jones has since remained at Melwood with the first team although it wasn’t immediate that his career prospects at Liverpool would be on the upward trajectory they are now considering how far away he once was from getting a sustained run in the senior side for the Reds.
Unlike recently crowned PFA Young Player of the Year Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jones was more of a slow-burner in terms of his rise to the first team. The West Derby midfielder took the slower route to get Klopp’s attention having burst onto the scene at 17 only to take an added one-two years to learn just what is required to cut it at the top.
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Rather than a loan spell, Jones had been impressing Klopp for some times with his performances as captain of the under-23’s last season which also saw the Liverpool midfielder crowned the Premier League 2 Player of the Season for 2020.
While there is a growing confidence that Jones will become a prominent performer under Klopp this season it is also worth reflecting that it was only last summer Jones was still some distance away from breaking into the first team.
There was more attention on the likes of Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliott following the attacking duo’s impressive excursions from pre-season in 2019.
While both were tipped to break into Klopp’s thought-process for the first-team, Jones had to settle with wearing the armband for the U23s.
However, fast forward a year and Jones’ first-team prospects have skyrocketed, to say the least. Within 12 months, Jones has gone from the poster boy of the academy to the player deemed to be the natural successor to Adam Lallana.
From scoring the winning penalty against Arsenal to rocketing a thunderbolt into the top corner in a Merseyside derby, Jones has catapulted himself into the heart of Klopp’s midfield.
He has made eight appearances under Klopp since converting that crucial spot-kick against Arsenal in the League Cup last year and has been part of Liverpool’s PL matchday squad on 12 occasions qualifying Jones for a medal following the club’s 19th-title success.
Since then, he has penned a fully warranted bumper deal with the club back in July and is now one of the club’s best up-and-coming players at the club alongside Neco Williams, Elliott and Brewster.
Jones has meticulously worked on his trade and is now primed for the biggest season of his career to date. Following his performances after Project Restart, there are no longer qualms regarding his spot in the starting XI as Jones has proven he more than just an option from the bench or the occasional cameo.
His time as captain for the U23s have given the academy graduate a distinct swagger that have influenced his performances for the team as Jones possesses a confidence well beyond his years.
Despite Liverpool currently boasting seven midfield options – not including Harry Wilson or Marko Grujic – Jones is still set to become Klopp’s go-to-player if he wants to make Liverpool less predictable or looks to add another edge in attack.
Jones’ greatest asset is that he is unlike any of Liverpool’s other midfield options and his inclusion in the team will allow Klopp to make the Reds tactically more flexible as Jones could be utilised in a number of different formations.
He could, for instance, be deployed in a box-to-box No.8 type of role in a 4-3-3 or he could push forward into a front-three with either Roberto Firmino or Mohamed Salah as a spearhead in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
His ability to play forward also means he could cover for Sadio Mane on the left, which in effect, solves the need to potentially dip into the market and splash out on an alternative attacking deputy.
Klopp has maintained that funds are currently limited during a time of such financial uncertainty and instead the club’s focus will be to look for internal value among the squad by incorporating young talent into the first-team fold.
With the likes of Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita also tipped to step up next season, Liverpool, in essence, could have three players who will feel like new signings once the season gets underway at Anfield on Saturday.
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