To say it was a season of two halves for Curtis Jones would be putting it lightly, but when he looks back at his career he could well view the home stretch of 2022/23 as a defining moment.
The campaign began with a borderline do-or-die narrative attached and ended with the academy graduate becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
Back in July, Jones told LFCTV of his ambitions for the new season and his intention of reaching “10 goals and 10 assists” for the Reds.
If you were to have assessed the progress in January, you’d have been forgiven for asking what planet those targets were written on.
No Liverpool midfielder has hit double figures since Philippe Coutinho in 2017/18 and even he spent portions of that campaign playing as part of a front three.
Yet in the fullness of time, Jones has shown exactly what he is capable of and had he been involved from the outset those figures might not have been so farfetched.
Curtis Jones, 2022/23
Started: 13 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 10
Unused sub: 7
Overall Season Rating: 6.75
There has never been much to dispute when it comes to Jones’ talent, but as with a number of Liverpool’s midfielders this season, fitness has been a stumbling block throughout.
His lack of availability caused many to lose patience and in some quarters he was dismissed as someone who was destined for the exit door come the summer.
A stress response of the tibia bone derailed the youngster’s campaign before it got moving after a rare eye injury caused him to miss large parts of the Reds’ quadruple chase in 2021/22.
It raised inevitable questions about whether this was a player we could truly rely upon long-term.
In reality, those are the only two major fitness hurdles Jones has faced. He doesn’t have a history of niggles or muscle issues and his best years remain comfortably ahead of him.
The stress response was something the club’s medical staff had “never seen before” but it was enough to keep Jones away from the action in the early stages of the season – 11 of the first 13 games, to be precise.
When Jurgen Klopp gave his No. 17 an extended opportunity to nail down a place in the side, he grabbed it with both hands and then some.
No signs of stage fright
Jones had only made one league start prior to being named in the team to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in April, but since then he has never looked back.
He made the slot on the left of Liverpool’s midfield three his own and registered 11 consecutive Premier League starts to close out the campaign.
Injuries, depth and a lack of impetus from the Reds’ midfield opened the door for Jones and with the ongoing concerns around the age of the current crop he became a welcome breath of fresh air.
It also came at a time when the side’s fortunes began to change, with Trent Alexander-Arnold being afforded greater creative influence in the middle of the park as he took up a hybrid role.
Klopp needed to change something and it worked, with Jones one of the major beneficiaries as he flourished in a new-look system which saw Liverpool put together seven successive wins.
He has always been capable, but for the first time in his career, the 22-year-old looked completely at home as he became an integral part of the Reds’ late surge.
After such a promising run, attention naturally turns to what next season will look like for the centre-midfielder.
Bring on the competition
Talk of an inevitable rebuild of the midfield this summer is never-ending, but where does that leave the Scouser?
The “like a new signing” cliche is an often misused phrase which boils the blood of many supporters, but had Jones arrived for £40 million and put in the performance he did away at Leicester we would rightly be lauding the enormous talent on our hands.
Nothing ought to have changed from Liverpool’s point of view in the market, however.
There is still plenty to be done and the uninspiring showing at home to Aston Villa in some ways offered a timely reminder of that.
But Jones’ sprint to the line has placed him in a position where, should Liverpool sign two or even three high-profile midfielders, it would be within his rights to question any decision which sees him dropped.
His homegrown status is an invaluable asset given he has now reached the age at which he will need to be ‘registered’ within the playing squad.
It is safe to say he won’t be going anywhere any time soon, something which you could not have said with such certainty six months ago.
He definitely doesn’t lack the confidence to mix it with any potential big-money recruits and will almost certainly not let the fresh competition unsettle him.
Having thrown his hat into the ring with recent performances, 2023/24 could be his biggest season yet.
Best moment: A quickfire brace away at Leicester during a purple patch of form.
Worst moment: A disappointing showing during the poor 1-0 away defeat to Nottingham Forest.
Role next season: Providing stiff competition to the new signings for a starting-berth in the midfield.