Curtis Jones is now good enough to be a fully-fledged England international, although that is of course under the incorrect assumption that the national side has a capable manager.
If Kalvin Phillips and Jordan henderson go ahead of Jones, there should be uproar.
Gareth Southgate has barely used Trent Alexander-Arnold, however, who is one of the best footballers on the planet, so there are no guarantees.
But the point stands. Anyone who has watched Jones properly since he got himself into the side back in April 2023 will recognise his monumental improvement.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t think Jones would develop into a player who walked into our best XI. He was obviously technically impressive, but consistently injured and didn’t make things happen. He held onto the ball for too long and wasn’t tenacious enough off it.
But Jurgen Klopp and his coaches have clearly worked tirelessly to harness Jones’ potential and we’re now looking at arguably Liverpool’s best midfielder.
Last night against Fulham he was named Man of the Match after a pretty faultless performance. He only misplaced one of his 48 passes, while providing a creative, probing influence at the same time. Jones scored a goal with a deflected effort, but was crucially involved in Liverpool’s second, playing a clever wide pass to Cody Gakpo, who eventually got into the box and scored.
He’s moulded himself into Gini Wijnaldum. Brilliant in tight-spaces, Jones recycles possession and sets the defensive tone with his press. Liverpool’s energy off the ball is tenfold better than last season with Fabinho and Henderson in midfield. They were so flat. So slow. So past it. Jones is at the start of his career though and it looks like very big things are to come.
What he does better than Wijnaldum is run with the ball through midfield. In our Youth Teams, he was a winger, so his ability to dribble is being utilised when he finds some space in the middle on transitions. He’s actually surprisingly fast with the ball at his feet.
What he’s doing most differently is using it faster. He used to slow the game down for no reason. Now, he makes quick decisions which enables us to find spaces before the opposition is in position. When he was slow to make decisions, often our opponents were just in two banks of four and were too hard to break down. That seems to have changed.
For me, Jones is a starter when everyone is fit. I like Wataru Endo as our no.6 as he is the only defensively-minded player we have there. Jones must start on the left of the three and then there is one space for Alexis Mac Allister, Dom Szoboszlai, Ryan Gravenberch and Harvey Elliott. Obviously there is the caveat of Thiago’s potential, eventual return, but for now – it’s not sensible to consider the Spaniard an option.
On paper, Endo and Jones seem like less exciting options than some of the others named, but you can only go on what you’ve seen this season – and Liverpool are a better team when they’re in the side.
What’s going on with Ryan Gravenberch?
While Jones is flying, Gravenberch is struggling. The Dutchman was poor last night, in the first-half especially, losing 10 of his 11 duels. For a midfielder standing at 6ft 3′, he gets bullied off the ball far too easily and needs to be braver in the 50/50 and more committed to winning second-balls.
Interestingly, Gravenberch was much better at the start off this season, especially in the Europa League. There’s a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, European sides are usually less physical and aggressive off the ball, which fits in with the first point. Secondly, there has been a pattern at Liverpool under Klopp of talented, technical midfielders looking good early on and then tailing off a bit. Look at Naby Keita, even Szoboszlai. There’s a suggestion that they curtail their early freedom to try and adapt to Klopp’s tactical and off-the-ball demands and initially find this development difficult.
Maybe this is what’s happening with Gravenberch.
The main thing to say though is he’s 21-years-old. He is essentially a youngster and shouldn’t be judged on this season at all. Clearly, there is a player in there. It’s just for Klopp and his coaches to bring out the best in him, like they are now with a 22-year-old Jones.