Jurgen Klopp made a big call to hand Curtis Jones his Champions League debut for Liverpool at The Johan Cruyff Arena.
It was the first time an academy graduate was included in a European starting XI since Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Even in a squad that is littered with serial winners, the Liverpool boss has showcased he isn’t afraid to put his faith in young talent even on the biggest stage in club football.
Jones wasn’t the only youngster from the club’s Kirkby set-up to be handed his inaugural Champions League bout as 19-year-old centre-back Rhys Williams was also thrown into the mix late-on during Liverpool’s 1-0 victory against Ajax on Wednesday.
The Reds manager has provided a pathway for a number of generational talents to breakthrough similarly to that of Trent Alexander-Arnold who made his European debut during the 2017/18 campaign.
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Alexander-Arnold, 21, certainly repaid his manager’s show of faith, clocking up a further 10 appearances in the competition as Liverpool progressed all the way to the final in Kiev.
It took some patience at first, with Alexander-Arnold only becoming a regular starter in the second half of the campaign.
There were moments when some questioned whether Liverpool could compete with Europe’s elite with a squad of relatively unheard prospects, but Klopp never lost faith.
Fast forward three years later and that same player who was handed a rare opportunity during a 2-1 victory in Hoffenheim has since gone on to become the best right-back in world football, collecting a Champions League and Premier League winner’s medal along the way.
Could it be happening again?
Klopp appears to have repeated the approach in central midfield this summer.
Having bolstered Liverpool’s midfield following the addition of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, many questioned whether this would have an effect on Jones’ involvement with the first team this season.
However, Klopp maintained his faith in the ability of Jones, a by-product of the academy who he named as captain during an FA Cup game last season.
Jones has had to remain patient for his opportunities given the competition for places in a midfield unit that contains the likes of Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner.
With the likes of Thiago and Keita unavailable due to fitness concerns, Klopp opted to throw Jones into Liverpool’s starting XI even with club-captain Henderson available and fit on the sidelines.
This would not have been possible under many other managers given how much was riding on this fixture following a crazy few weeks for the club that saw setback after setback unfold.
Klopp’s decision looks a smart one, and a choice that could see the club reap similar rewards to how they did with Alexander-Arnold.
Even despite the club having eight midfielders on their wage-bill, Klopp has demonstrated that depth is required if Liverpool are going to thrive in this chaotic, unpredictable and frankly ridiculous season.
With Jones, Liverpool could have a midfielder on their hands that the club can build it’s future around. It’s in his hands.
The 19-year-old West Derby talent is undoubtedly an exciting prospect, and if he goes on to live up to his potential, he will have Klopp’s faith to thank.
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