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Curtis Jones has 1 hurdle to leap to become the Gini Wijnaldum of Arne Slot’s Liverpool

There were times in 2023/24 when Curtis Jones felt as important to Liverpool’s midfield as Gini Wijnaldum once did, but injuries again stunted him.

Few players came out of the 2022/23 season with their reputations enhanced, but Jones was one such figure, having ended the campaign strongly.

The midfield rebuild saw Fabinho and Jordan Henderson cast aside, among others, but Jones has continued to grow over the past year, albeit with speed-bumps thrown in.

Curtis Jones, 2023/24

BERGAMO, ITALY - Thursday, April 18, 2024: Liverpool's Curtis Jones lines-up before during the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match between BC Atalanta and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia. Liverpool won 1-0 but Atalanta progress 3-1 on aggregate. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 36 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 12
Unused sub: 5
Goals: 5
Assists: 3
Overall Season Rating: 7.28

 

A positive season that petered out

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones (L) celebrates with team-mate Darwin Núñez after scoring the second goal, the club's 500th in the competition. during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was always going to be fascinating to see how Liverpool’s new-look midfield fared in those early months of the season, with four new faces brought in.

While Dominik Szoboszlai stole the show initially, the others felt their way in, allowing Jones to play an understated but key role in the middle of the park.

The 23-year-old was a vibrant presence, starting four of the first seven Premier League games and linking effectively with those around him, maturing so much from his more flamboyant, attack-minded years.

Having ended 2022/23 impressively, he found another gear in August and September, combining reliability on the ball with tactical intelligence.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates with two-goal hero Curtis Jones (L) after the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This wasn’t the cocky young teenager who used to make headlines in the youth team with dazzling footwork – this was a disciplined footballer doing exactly what Klopp asked of him.

Unfortunately, a harsh red card at Tottenham set Jones back, seeing his season lose rhythm, and he didn’t start again in the league for nearly two months.

From then on, it was hit-and-miss, not because he wasn’t playing well, but because he wasn’t fully fit often enough.

By the time the season reached its conclusion, Jones had only made 14 Premier League starts, which speaks volumes.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 24, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones (R) and Alexis Mac Allister celebrate their side's second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He shone when he was on the pitch, with Klopp calling him “super important in different departments,” but his standing in the midfield didn’t feel as strong in May as it did earlier in the campaign.

Perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay Jones is that he was often appreciated most when he was unavailable, proving to be the underrated gel that held the midfield together.

He didn’t catch the eye as much as Alexis Mac Allister, or enjoy the cult hero status that Wataru Endo has, but Liverpool were more balanced when he was in the team.

 

Arne Slot’s answer to Gini Wijnaldum?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 26, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 3 game between Liverpool FC and Toulouse FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The player who the new-look Jones instantly draws comparisons with is Wijnaldum – such an unsung hero for Liverpool at their peak under Klopp.

There were bigger names, but few possessed the Dutchman’s ability to be so press-resistant, cover ground at will and hold his position so immaculately.

Jones isn’t at Wijnaldum’s level yet – he still has further gears to find – but it is easy to see why he is spoken of in a similar breath.

No Liverpool regular posted a higher pass completion rate than Jones (91.5%) in 2023/24.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 23, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jones is level with Virgil van Dijk, but his numbers are more impressive because of the position he plays in.

The manner in which he retains possession in tight spaces, provides industry and chips in in front of goal – five goals and assists piece – has come on leaps and bounds.

The biggest difference between Jones and Wijnaldum is availability, though, and that is the main thing threatening to hold the former back.

 

Injuries likely to determine Jones’ path

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates after scoring the second goal, the club's 500th in the competition. during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Injuries are such a huge aspect of football and have the potential to define a player’s career.

Just look at fellow Liverpool midfielders such Thiago, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana, none of whom reached their potential at Anfield.

While Jones is more reliable injury-wise, it is hard to ignore that his struggles to stay fit for long periods are becoming problematic.

As mentioned, he made only 14 league starts in 2023/24 – 36 in total and with his longest run of starts being just five games – and given how highly Klopp rated him, that tally would have been far greater were he available more.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 17, 2024: Liverpool's Curtis Jones goes off with an injury escorted by first-team physiotherapist Chris Morgan during the FA Premier League match between Brentford FC and Liverpool FC at the Brentford Community Stadium. Liverpool won 4-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Every time Jones builds up momentum, looking like being a genuine key starter most weeks, a spell on the sidelines comes his way.

The young Scouser can take solace from the fact that his hero, Steven Gerrard, also had injury problems until he was around 23, before becoming far more reliable.

This does feel like a significant point in Jones’ career, however, having now gone past the point of being a youngster.

It will be interesting to see how Arne Slot plans to use him – he has so many midfielders to keep happy – but his skillset surely appeals to the new head coach.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones (c) celebrates with team-mates Cody Gakpo (L) and Dominik Szoboszlai (R) after scoring the second goal, the club's 500th in the competition. during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Opinion appears to be divided when it comes to Jones’ ceiling as a footballer, but if he can be a great squad player who starts more often than not for the next decade, he will have enjoyed an outstanding career.

It won’t be talent or ability to learn that stop him, but those dreaded injuries.


Best moment: A great solo effort at home to West Ham in the League Cup.

Worst moment: The harsh red card away to Spurs.

Role next season: Excellent squad player.