Neco Williams has praised Curtis Jones for playing “like a 27-year-old,” with the Liverpool midfielder playing with the same confidence as he did in the academy.
Williams has long been team-mates with Jones, as the 19-year-old duo rose through the youth ranks together at Kirkby before establishing themselves as first-team options under Jurgen Klopp.
Jones is the more prominent at this stage, with only seven players making more appearances for Liverpool this season, and the teenager has started six of the last 10 games, warranting a regular role in the starting lineup.
It can be argued that, if they were fully fit, Jones would be ahead of both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the midfield pecking order, with Williams of the belief he has taken his opportunity.
The right-back, speaking to the club’s official website, has praised his close friend for translating the maturity he showed at youth level to the pitch as part of the senior squad.
“From when he was a little kid, he’s always played with maturity and had so much confidence,” Williams said.
“From being in the academy to being in the first team with him, he’s just the exact same player. That maturity he had when he was a kid to now is the exact same. That’s his game.
“He plays with that much confidence and that much maturity, he doesn’t play like a 19-year-old, he plays like a 27-year-old. He’s obviously a fantastic player.
“For what he’s done this season so far, he’s helped this team massively and he’s only going to grow to become a better player.”
Williams is on the money with his view that Jones performs like a player much older and more experienced than he is, and that he will only benefit further from continued game time.
This is also the case for Williams himself, with his displays against Ajax and Wolves earlier this month much-improved from previous outings, following a one-to-one with Klopp.
“The more you play, the more you gain confidence. Playing in this team, I’m only going to become a better player and gain experience,” he explained.
“I’ve had a lot of tough games that I’ve been playing in and I think that’s only going to make me a better player.
“The more games I play, the more I’m going to become a better player.
“I’m just taking it day by day now and I’ve really been enjoying playing with these lads.
“Hopefully I’ll just keep getting the game time in and if that comes together then I’ll hopefully become a better player.”
While injuries have forced the situation to an extent, it is refreshing to see so many academy talents given the chance to shine at such a high level for Liverpool, and that they are grasping their opportunities.
Jones is certainly the poster boy in this regard, but Williams’ performances in recent weeks suggest that he can reach that level too, allowing him to cover for and compete with Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Elsewhere, Caoimhin Kelleher has, while not putting pressure on Alisson due to the Brazilian’s world-class status, leapfrogged Adrian into the No. 2 role, and both Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have filled in comfortably at centre-back.
That is not the extent of Liverpool’s reserves of young talent, of course, with the likes of Leighton Clarkson, Jake Cain and Billy Koumetio all chomping at the bit for the same chances their peers are receiving.