The Renaissance of Curtis Jones: How the Midfield Maestro Saved His Liverpool Career

- - Players

Red Neon Number 17When you play for a club that is challenging for silverware on four fronts, there’s always a chance you will get some game-time.

But to become a first-team regular at a club like Liverpool, you need to show a tremendous amount of ability and a complete commitment to adhering to the tactical side of your playing position.

It looked for a long time as though Curtis Jones would remain in the former camp; a useful squad player that could be used in the domestic cup competitions to give more established stars a rest.

But in recent months, the 22-year-old has become of the first names on Jurgen Klopp’s team sheet – and rewarded his manager with a two-goal, player of the match performance against Leicester City.

So how has Jones broken clear of the midfield pack and reinvented himself as an undroppable part of Klopp’s plans for 2023/24?

Biding His Time

Jones is that rarest of beasts in football: a 22-year-old veteran.

Curtis Jones Appearances Chart

*2022/23 season has two games remaining

Some young stars arrive fully formed and take the Premier League by storm, whereas for others the learning curve is steeper and takes longer to complete – Jones made his Liverpool debut in 2018, so the fact he is only starting to truly flourish now reveals plenty about his development.

The maturing of any young player can be stalled by injuries – particularly as their body can still be growing, and so when Jones fractured his tibia earlier this season it was another dropped stitch in a tapestry that, back then, looked set to be sewn elsewhere in the future.

But he came back stronger physically and perhaps mentally from such a painful injury, and whether it afforded him added perspective only he knows: but the key is that he started to listen more to Klopp’s demands.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Listening to your manager? It should be a given, but young stars who play the game on impulse are more likely to resist tactical instruction – in a system like Klopp’s, where the dual number eights are so vital to linking defence and attack, any inability to fulfil strategic direction will be the quickest route to the substitutes’ bench.

Klopp’s comments about Jones and his period on the sidelines is particularly revealing.

“He could watch a lot of football, he could understand the game better and it looks really like that.”

As he began to understand the tactical side of the game more, Jones worked hard in the gym to ensure his broken leg healed appropriately and stronger than before. The upshot? An ability to get around the pitch more, which is paramount to Klopp’s counter-pressing system.

The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold as a sort of holding midfielder when in possession has also enabled Jones to play higher up the pitch – his counter-pressing ability, and improvements in output with goals, assists and key passes, have impressed Klopp no end.

It’s a far cry from the heart-to-heart that the head coach had with Jones in January 2022, in which he admitted he was not happy with the midfielder’s progress – fearing the local lad would fail to fulfil his potential.

But the penny seems to have finally dropped, and Jones – assuming he stays fit – can look forward to a bright future with Liverpool and perhaps England; Gareth Southgate was in the stands to see the midfielder’s brace of goals against Leicester.

To the Future

Section of Football Tactics Drawn on Paper

The recent form of Liverpool has rather painted over the cracks of what has been a disappointing campaign.

Unsurprisingly, Klopp will be given a blank cheque to overhaul his squad in the summer – and the midfield will be one key area he targets.

It’s already been confirmed that James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will leave the club at the end of the season – a trio of players in competition with Jones for a starting berth in the midfield.

With the injury-prone Thiago maintaining his career average of missing one in every two games, there is evidently a void in Klopp’s squad – he doesn’t seem wholly convinced by the ability of Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho to step up as elite midfielders either.

New signings are likely then, but the renaissance of Curtis Jones must feel like having a new player altogether – he has been hiding in plain sight all this time.

If he ends the season strongly, the assumption is that he will command a starting place at the start of the next campaign – a young, hungry English player of no little talent brings plenty of upside for Klopp and Liverpool FC.

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