Curtis Jones: Liverpool's Scouse supernova comes of age for England

Will Castle
10 months ago

Curtis Jones experienced a new lease of life towards the end of last season, but he's taken that to another level with England.

Jones had long been touted as a future star for the Reds. Branded as a "prodigious talent" by Academy director Alex Inglethorpe, he made waves in the youth setup before earning his senior debut in January of 2019.

A year later, he would break his Liverpool duck in storybook fashion. As he curled in a special strike from range to grant Liverpool a famous Merseyside derby win, Jones achieved something he could have only dreamed of as a young lad growing up 15 minutes down the road from Anfield. From that moment, it looked like Jones was going to be Liverpool's next Scouse supernova.

However, as Jones sought to become a regular fixture in Jurgen Klopp's side, misfortune would strike. Just as the Toxteth-born midfielder was picking up steam, he would suffer a freak eye injury in November of 2021, resigning him to the sidelines for 14 games.

Upon his return, he would struggle to work his way back into the team, and after being hampered with a reoccurring stress injury of his tibia at the beginning of the 2021/22 campaign, it felt like Jones was being forgotten about, while a few sections of the fans even started to get on his back.

The lofty expectations that had accompanied him when he first broke through were looked unlikely to be met amid the clamour for a midfield rebuild and surely fewer chances to impress. With his Liverpool legacy in danger of becoming more Neil Mellor than Steven Gerrard, the tail end of the 2022/23 season changed everything once again.

As Liverpool prepared for a midfield overhaul behind the scenes, Jones reminded everyone of his worth. Enjoying the best spell of his senior career so far, Jones started all of Liverpool's final 11 games of the season, contributing to an unbeaten run that saw Klopp’s men put on a late charge for a top-four finish — something which looked incomprehensible a couple months prior when Liverpool were languishing in mid-table.

Chipping in with goal contributions, including a fantastic brace against Leicester City, Jones' success came from his ability to get himself into the right positions. He ranked in the 98th percentile for touches in the attacking penalty area per 90 (3.59) and the 96th percentile for progressive passes received (6.34), as per FBref. Jones added a new dimension to Liverpool's midfield.

However, the 22-year-old's fine form didn't cease after the conclusion of last season. He would go on to pull the strings in a deeper role for England during their triumphant Under-21 European Championships campaign — culminating in his, admittedly completely accidental, redirection of Cole Palmer's free-kick, which would prove the decisive goal in the final. More telling than the somewhat freak goal, Jones was awarded Player of the Match.

After the match, UEFA shared a quote from their Technical Observer panel giving their reasons for choosing Jones: “He was always on the ball at the right time, he played excellently between the lines and showed himself to be a real leader of the team.”

Jones' performance in the final was a continuation of his displays across the tournament in Georgia, where he maintained a 94% pass completion rate — the highest of any midfielder.

 

Curiously, the last player to score in an Under-21 Euros final for England before Jones was another Scouser, Howard Gayle — Liverpool's first black player, who also netted in a victory over Spain back in 1984.

In another interesting parallel with the past; the 2013 Under-21 Euros final Player of the Match? One

Thiago Alcantara.

Back in the present, Jones is in the form of his life. But he'll need to be for the challenge he faces going into the upcoming campaign.

Liverpool's promise of a midfield rebuild has not fallen through. Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have come through the door, and there's the real possibility that at least one more midfielder is still to arrive, with Romeo Lavia among those touted. In addition, the switch to a box midfield last season that helped the Reds regain form saw Trent Alexander-Arnold moved into a more central role.

Simply put, Jones will not be short of competition for a place in Jurgen Klopp's midfield. But as we've seen of late, Jones has the attitude to thrive in such situations. His performances will make him a strong contender for a place in the starting XI against Chelsea on 13 August, giving him the perfect opportunity to mark his territory in the centre of the park, signifying his intent to not be an afterthought of this Liverpool side despite the clamour for shiny new signings.

Beyond Klopp's team sheet, Jones' displays will surely have also caught the eye of Gareth Southgate, who is already casting his team for the senior Euros next summer. Ironically, Jones may even find it simpler to break through at national level. Particularly in a deeper role, there appears less obvious competition for places with the Three Lions, with Southgate often still selecting Kalvin Phillips despite his lack of club game time.

The focus now though is back to Liverpool and, if he continues his fine form, Jones' availability, consistency and tactical flexibility could see him become a key player for Klopp in 2023 and beyond, perhaps even becoming the unlikely heir to James Milner's throne as Liverpool's very own Mr. Dependable.

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