In what was a fine victory for Liverpool on Hungarian soil on Tuesday night against a decent RB Leipzig side, it was not just the two away goals which cemented Liverpool’s merriment. It was also joyful to witness the continuation of a breakout season for a young scouser: Curtis Jones.
Tuesday night saw a resurgent Reds team resurrect their electrifying pressing philosophy and devastating attacking threat. Leipzig were no doubt punished for their own mistakes, but good teams castigate errors: Mo Salah and Sadio Mane certainly did that.
On a Champions League night under the lights, we know from our own history that anything is possible; it is growing more likely that that is also applies to the prodigious Curtis Jones. The 20-year-old played like a wily veteran with a calmness personified and showed attributes of strength, vision and flair throughout not just this game, but the season thus far.
The Past Becomes The Present
Jones joined his boyhood club at 9-years old and is another product of Liverpool’s first-class academy. Coming through the ranks and featuring frequently for the Premier League champions, the limits are limitless.
Jones fully realised his dream in February 2018. He signed his first professional contract for the club and hasn’t looked back since.
In January 2019 Curtis Jones made his first appearance as a Liverpool first team player against Wolves in an FA Cup fixture, starting on the left side of midfield. His second game came nine months later and earned himself the Man of the Match award against MK Dons in the League Cup.
People should have known then, that the Prince had arrived on Merseyside.
Jones already has a pocket full of highlights to his ever-growing CV at Anfield. His winning penalty against Arsenal in the 5-5 thriller would be an insight to the calm and confident demeanour he possesses for such a young player. The pressure he has faced so far in his young and blossoming career doesn’t seem to phase him; he has shown on multiple times, he is the man for the big occasion.
And what occasion could be bigger than the Merseyside Derby, in the FA Cup?
A year after making his debut for the first team Jones would start with a handful of reserve players against Liverpool’s local rivals in January 2020. He would score the winning goal in a 1-0 win and an impressive display.
Jones hit a sensational strike from 20 years which curled in the top corner of the net and sent Liverpool through to the next round. In doing so Jones achieved another honour. At 18 years and 340 days he became the youngest goal scorer in the Merseyside derby. Jones took the record from the icon Robbie Fowler who did same in 1994. Not a bad way to announce yourself…
In the next game he scored again against Shrewsbury in a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup. Jones became the first teenager since Raheem Sterling in 2014 to net in two consecutive games.
The Toxteth Terror would face The Shrews again in the replay and add more prestige to his gathering honours. The privilege of being the youngest ever Liverpool captain also falls on the paragon; at the age of 19 years and 5 days, Jones led the Liverpool team to victory against Shrewsbury in an FA Cup replay in February 2020.
The Adventure Continues
Curtis Jones seems to have been around the team for much longer than he has been. Perhaps that is down to the fact that he already seems so experienced and is consistent in his stellar performances. It certainly seems longer than a season he has been a fully fledged first teamer.
Jones signed a new contract for Liverpool in July 2020 and secured a Premier League winner medal last season by registering five appearances for the club. He also picked up the Premier League 2 Player of the Season award. Not a bad debut season!
“It’s so pleasing to see how he’s grown and developed and sometimes I have to remind myself how young he is, because he has the physical attributes of a much more experienced player.”Captain Jordan Henderson on Jones’ progression
Since then, he has changed his squad number to 17; the same number the King of Merseyside Steven Gerrard donned on his back in his early Anfield days. The irony is not lost on some.
Gerrard was Jones’ manager in the 2017/18 season for the Liverpool U18 team and the former Kop idol dedicated his energies on developing and maturing the England U21 international. Jones’ growth under Gerrard cannot be underestimated.
Maybe Gerrard saw something in himself and a protege in Jones; a could-be midfield maestro much like Gerrard himself was for all those years as a Liverpool player.
Learning The Liverpool Values
During his time in the U23 team he was handed the captaincy by Neil Critchley. Becoming a leader would be vital in Jones’ development in terms of personality, as well as ability. Potential will always remain potential, if not realised and acted upon.
“It’s important he gets on the ball as much as he can because he makes us play. He’s got that quality to create something out of nothing”Steven Gerrard on Curtis Jones
The current season has seen Liverpool’s injury woes benefit the youngster. Spanish superstar Thiago Alcantara, captain Jordan Henderson, the inexorable Naby Keita and exciting Oxlade-Chamberlain have all succumbed to periods on the physio table this season.
As a result, Curtis Jones has found himself played 887 minutes of PL football, and over 400 minutes of Champions League game time. Behind the clouds the sun still shines.
The Future of Liverpool
Throughout this season Jones has excelled and seen himself placed ahead of some of the players who were perhaps ahead of him in the pecking order at the seasons beginning.
In recent weeks the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been relegated to the bench in place of Jones who continues to develop and thrive under Klopp’s tutelage.
To go one step further, Klopp opted to withdraw the experienced and two-time CL winner Thiago, rather than Jones.
The past two games in which Jones has been substituted (against Leicester and Man City) has seen Liverpool ship 6 points and 6 goals.
This may have of course be a result of rotation and a chance to rest Thiago (who is also coming in to his own for The Reds) but it also highlights the growing confidence Klopp has in his brightest young star.
Liverpool Rejected January Loan Bids
It is perhaps then no wonder why Jurgen Klopp refused the loan bids that came calling in January for Jones’ services. James Pearce of The Athletic reported that ‘Klopp wanted to keep him around. He could see the rough edges being slowly ironed out by the environment Jones had walked into.’
There is no doubt Jones has made himself integral to Liverpool’s season. The thought of loaning him out now seems absurd when he is growing so much inside Kirkby and Anfield.
Klopp surely sees Jones’ development at Liverpool being more beneficial to the young man. He is reaping the rewards of learning from Liverpool’s leaders in James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Virgil Van Dijk. He is learning the ‘Liverpool way’ whilst also being given the opportunity on the pitch to mature and excel.
Injuries aside, Jones has arrived and he won’t be going anywhere soon if he continues on this path to greatness.
“There are times when you need to encourage but also times when you need to give a rocket as well. Curtis realised that if you want to play for Liverpool, the defensive side of the game is as important as the stuff on the ball.”James Milner on Curtis Jones
Jones boasts some tidy numbers too. In the Premier League his xG (expected goals) is 0.8 and xA (expected assists) is 0.6. Based on these numbers, Jones is expected to supply a goal contribution in most games from his attacking prowess and intelligent build up play.
On Tuesday we saw the invention, vision and technique Jones possesses first hand, as he excellently controlled and chipped a ball over a floundering Nordi Mukeile for Sadio Mane to expertly finish for Liverpool’s second away goal of the evening.
Consistency is Key
Jones is more than the tricky and silky winger he was in the academy. He has added precision and discipline to his game too. To play in a midfield three, when throughout most of his youth level years he was a wide attacker, has highlighted and emphasised his versatility too.
He is controlled in the defensive aspect and in the press. He is not wild nor sporadic in his defensive duties and recycles play well. For a natural attacker to be so comfortable in defending again broadcasts his adaptability.
Jones is a direct player and shows no fear when running at the opposition. The enigma moves Liverpool forwards from midfield; his first thought when he receives the ball is to look up, and forwards.
Jones has embraced the potential talent he possesses and has evolved to become a key player for the reigning champions. It is excitement and wonder for Liverpool’s faithful fans when his name is on the team sheet but also an emotion of calm too. That for me, is the biggest attribute this 20-year-old possesses.
How many 20-year-olds play the way Jones can? To control, create, recycle, score and still remain calm and composed. Jones is the no doubt the prince of Merseyside, how long until he takes the throne?
The future is bright. The future is now.
“Everyone knows my opinion of Curtis Jones, he is an exceptional talent and we will have some fun with him I am pretty sure.”Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp