Editor’s Column: A defining nine games for Curtis Jones

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Not many of the plethora of confusing midfield options Jurgen Klopp has at his disposal have the ability to do what Curtis Jones did in the buildup to Mo Salah’s goal on Sunday.

The Englishman cleverly found space in the box, before flicking the ball into the path of an onrushing Diogo Jota, without even turning his head to see where the Portuguese star would be.

Jota’s cross found Jordan Henderson, whose shot was diverted into the goal by Salah. Jones was the critical player in the move, although there’ll be no assist stat to show it.

At the start of season, Jones confidently predicted he would be in the goals and assists this term, but now mid-April, he’s on zero for either and has only played 429 minutes in the Premier League and Champions League.

Injuries have ravaged his progression and effectively stolen a year of his career, despite the fact he hasn’t been officially ‘out’ of action – simply encouraged to train and play less in order to lessen the stress response to his right tibia.

Last term, there was an eye-injury that similarly stunted his development.

At 22, it’s now or never, especially given the fact Jurgen Klopp’s midfield is set for a full revamp this summer.

The definite players to leave are Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both on the expiration of their contracts. James Milner is also out of contract, but might stay on as a player/coach, which would be smart way of keeping the veteran for his experience and professionalism. Arthur Melo will also go back to Juventus. What a pointless loan that was.

Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago are likely to stay, but all three need their minutes reduced after poor campaigns. That leaves Jones. The player whose future is perhaps the most difficult to define.

Klopp has started him in our past two games for the first time in seemingly forever, against Chelsea and Arsenal, showing he hasn’t written Jones off as a potential option.

So, how’s he done? He always looks nice on the ball. He’s a fine technician, but often the manner in which he keeps the ball can be frustrating. There are chances for quick passes and transitions which Jones ignores, slowing down our offensive tempo. He doesn’t have very good vision, often failing to spot runs from the attackers – and his defensive side of the game is occasionally enthusiastic, but mostly lacking bite. Naturally, he’s a player who wants to be on the ball rather than off it.

Our next games are versus Leeds, Nottingham Forest and West Ham – and given he played against bigger sides – the expectation is Jones will continue to get the nod for the time being – providing he stays fit.

It’s imperative he shines for his Liverpool future. Klopp is no longer in the mood to keep people around for the sake of it, for the good of squad morale. A shakeup is needed and if you’re not good enough, you’re probably out of the door before 2023/24.

Klopp need to be ruthless in the market and his failure to do so recently, even if his hands have been tied by the board, has clearly affected this season, both in terms of the players’ physical and mental fatigue.

Speaking to the Daily Mail about his future, Jones said: “I couldn’t care (about new signings). I’m a confident lad and I have the backing of the staff. If they turn around and say they think I need to leave or go out on loan then there are options there that I already know of…

“But it’s not something that we’ve spoken about at the club and it’s not like they have said: ‘Look, we’re going to buy him, you might have to leave, you might have to do this or do that’. I’ve not heard anything, so I am here to play.”

The issue with Jones is that it’s not obvious what he is. A creator? A goalscorer? Someone who can do the Gini Wijnaldum keep-ball role?

One problem is that he burst onto the scene as an attacking midfielder with pizzazz and flair, but was coached tactically to provide a more solid foundation, and it’s removed some of his naturally impressive traits. The same could be said of Keita, actually.

Until the end of the season, Jones needs to display the characteristics that could make him a viable option for next term, most likely from the bench, if Liverpool make the big signings everyone is hoping for.

We need constant availability, drive, good decision making, ball-retention and the odd bit of creative magic like we saw against Arsenal. That can’t be a one off.

I’d love him to make it, but right now, the odds are not in his favour. These nine games may not mean much for the club given we’re almost certain to miss out on Champions League, but for Jones, they’re huge.

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