The search for a third midfielder continues with Romeo Lavia heavily linked with a switch to Anfield from Southampton. If that deal happens, the middle third options for Liverpool would have been completely revamped.
However, key to this refresh could be someone already on the books. Curtis Jones was instrumental in Liverpool’s end-of-season run. The 22-year-old made the role on the left side of the midfield his own in the new-look 3-2-2-3 shape deployed by Jurgen Klopp.
His unique playing profile made him the perfect fit for the hybrid position. Having come through the ranks as an attacker, he is comfortable in wide areas and would regularly occupy those areas when the Reds had possession. This allowed the left-sided forward to come inside and take up more threatening positions.
As a result, the 2019/20 Premier League champions scored three or more goals in five of their final nine matches to round off the 2022/23 campaign. For context here, Liverpool only scored three or more in five of the other 29 games in the English top-flight last season.
Something clicked when Klopp changed the shape of the team and Jones more than played a part in that.
He’s carried that form into the Under-21 European Championships with England. Deployed in an unfamiliar double-pivot role by manager Lee Carsley, Jones was one of the best players at the tournament as the Three Lions claimed the trophy. The Liverpool number 17 even scored the winner in the final. Granted, he didn’t know much about it as Cole Palmer’s free-kick deflected in off him, he still claimed the Player-of-the-Match award.
History makers, a night I’ll never forget. Thank you to everyone involved!!! 🏴 pic.twitter.com/H1htaQZn9k
— Curtis Jones (@curtisjr_10) July 8, 2023
Jones finished the match against Spain with a pass success rate of 88%, it was the first time in the tournament that he hadn’t completed over 90% of his passes. The midfielder put on a passing clinic in all five of his appearances and showcased his versatility, playing a pivotal part in England’s build-up phase.
When he initially emerged in the Liverpool team during the 2020/21 season, he was in the team to help retain possession in the middle third. Playing on the left-side of midfield, he curbed his natural, risk-taking instincts, opting to play safer passes. This frustrated some fans but he was going what the role required him to do. Last season, he was involved much higher up the pitch but the objective was still the same — he was there to keep the ball but this time it was deeper in the opposition’s half. He was there to balance things out. It was needed with Trent Alexander-Arnold stepping into midfield and playing riskier passes. If Jones was forcing play, it would’ve left Liverpool open to be hit on the break.
So, again, the versatile middle-third man adapted his game to suit the needs of the team.
His performances in the deeper role for England, albeit the sample size isn’t the largest and the opposition aren’t the greatest, do increase his importance to this Liverpool team. Klopp values versatility. We also know he’s a fan of physicality, height and players with a high work rate. Jones is 6ft 1in, he was the midfielder involved in the most duels on a per 90 basis towards the end of the season and he covers a lot of ground.
His skillset is one that Klopp is going to appreciate. The fact he can play multiple roles and fits a number of different playing profiles gives the German tactician options. Jones could be the one to facilitate Mac Allister and Szoboszlai. He could be the counterweight to the pair of them, the player who enables them to play their natural games. Just as he did at the end of the previous campaign when his form coincided with Alexander-Arnold scaling his game to even greater heights.
Jones might not be a big-name player — for some on Twitter he doesn’t even get into the matchday squad — but he can play an important part in the 2023/24 season as Klopp looks to bed the new midfielders without there being any teething issues.