“Curtis is Curtis. Our boy. Thank God. Imagine if you have to sign him? He is already here four years and wants to stay, so that is a top, top-class player.”
That was the view of Jurgen Klopp after witnessing the latest impressive performance by Curtis Jones in Liverpool’s dramatic 2-1 win over Tottenham at Anfield on Wednesday.
Klopp has been deprived of some key players this season but another has emerged and the young midfielder’s ability to fill the void left by others may yet prove to be the crucial factor in helping Liverpool to retain their Premier League title.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win over Tottenham in the Premier League
Bukayo Saka is the only teenager in the competition to have played more minutes than the 19-year-old Jones, but he is doing so in a struggling Arsenal side. Jones is contributing to the team at the top of the table – the reigning Premier League champions.
Does that make it easier or harder? Easier to fit in, perhaps. To keep things ticking over and try not to look out of place. That job was achieved by Jones throughout much of November.
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Harder, though, to make a real impression. To outshine the stars. That is what Jones did in what Jamie Carragher described as a man-of-the-match performance against Tottenham.
The pace was frenzied but Jones was not just keeping up with it, he was dictating it. His tally of 105 successful passes was the most of anyone on the pitch and 81 of them came in the opposition half. The entire Tottenham team only completed 57 passes in the Liverpool half.
There was a drag-back and square ball to set his side away again in the second half that just exuded confidence. Jones has said that “the last thing I will ever do is doubt myself” and that is now evident in his play. There is a growing maturity to his game.
The quality was already there, of course. His curled winner in the Merseyside derby FA Cup clash against Everton last season revealed that much. The repeat strike in another man-of-the-match performance against Lincoln earlier this season was proof that it was no one-off.
But Jones has needed time to adjust to the new environment. Just because he can do those things does not mean that he always should. His decision-making has had to improve because his role in the group is different, as Klopp has explained.
“That is what he had to learn in the last few years because he was absolutely exceptional and maybe the top player of each age group he was in,” said the Liverpool boss.
“He has made massive steps in that department.”
In a sense, less is more. Taking that 30-yard shot every other time might make sense if you are the best player in the team. When Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are making darting runs to receive the ball ahead of you, an alternative choice might be more logical.
Jones has had to pare his game back and now he is adding those touches of finesse of which he is capable. “Doing the right things in the right moments,” as Klopp puts it.
What is clear is that there is an appetite to learn. Jones says that he likes to study his own game and Klopp describes him as a hard-working boy who loves the feedback and analysis.
The biggest indication that Jones is responding to what is being demanded of him is the trust that his manager is placing in him. As recently as September, Klopp said that “Curtis knows himself there is a lot of space for improvement, like being in a game really over 90 minutes, really being involved”. Look at the faith that has been shown in him since then.
Prior to this season, Jones had started only one Premier League match. He did not complete his first 90 minutes until November 22 in the 3-0 win over Leicester. Now, Klopp has kept him on the pitch for the whole game in each of Liverpool’s last three Premier League games.
“And now, the door is open,” says the boss. “The plan is to use him as often as possible.”
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If Jones features at Crystal Palace on Saturday, he will have played more Premier League minutes this season than Diogo Jota. He is already well ahead of Thiago Alcantara.
Much of the focus has been on what the new signings might add and what Liverpool might lose as a result of the injuries to key players such as Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
But the emergence of Jones might just reframe the debate. The injury crisis was an opportunity and it is an opportunity that has been seized. One month ago, Liverpool had a young talent hoping to fill a gap. Now they have a player who is adding to their game.
When the story of the season is told, that could be decisive.
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