There is no denying Liverpool need to freshen up their midfield. Thiago and Jordan Henderson are on the wrong side of 30, while Fabinho will join them in October. Then there is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, who are set to leave on free transfers at the end of the campaign. James Milner could also depart on a free transfer although Jurgen Klopp wants to keep the veteran around.
Klopp has an exciting young group of central midfielders ready to play more minutes. Harvey Elliott has again shown his potential. His recent match time has been limited, however. The 20-year-old hasn’t played since Liverpool’s 4-1 loss to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on April 1.
Fabio Carvalho is another player with a bright future. The Portuguese attacking midfielder has had a stop-start campaign under Klopp. Carvalho, who joined from Fulham last summer, has two goals in 12 matches. However, Carvalho has seen just five minutes of Premier League action since Liverpool’s embarrassing 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest on October 22. Rumours suggest Carvalho could leave in the summer due to a lack of playing time.
Then there is the defensive midfield prodigy that is Stefan Bajcetic. With one goal in 11 appearances in the league, Bajcetic emerged as a diamond in the rough for Klopp in the early part of the season. Any fan who saw Bajcetic during Liverpool’s Asia preseason tour would have been impressed. Those impressions were furthered once Bajcetic made his first-team debut. The midfielder is set for an even bigger role next term once he returns from an abductor muscle injury. Bajcetic won’t turn 19 until October. Elliott, Carvalho, and Bajcetic could provide Liverpool with the youth boost it desperately needs in midfield.
Yet, there is one player that has re-emerged at Anfield in the last month. Curtis Jones looked like he didn’t have a future at Anfield. I will be the first to say, I believed Jones needed to leave and that Liverpool should have loaned him out a few seasons ago to gain first-team experience with a Championship club (like Elliott did). I have been pleasantly surprised with Jones’ recent performances since returning to the team. My opinion of the academy graduate has changed.
Is Curtis Jones the future of Liverpool’s midfield?
Injuries plagued Jones, who is just 22, over the last few seasons. He burst onto the scenes with that goal against Everton in the FA Cup. Since then, he has been on the team’s periphery, failing to meet most fans’ expectations. Jones didn’t make his 2022-23 league debut until October 19. He then experienced a start-stop situation with further injuries preventing him from playing. The injuries have mostly been due to overuse and stress, forcing him to rest.
Following Liverpool’s 4-1 loss to Man City at the beginning of April, Klopp needed a response from a team failing to fire. He shook up the starting XI against Chelsea, a nil-nil draw at Stamford Bridge the following week. It was a game Liverpool should have lost. The team was poor throughout the match and gave away chance after chance to Chelsea. Yet, one bright spot was Jones. Plenty of Liverpool fans would have groaned seeing Jones on the team sheet next to Henderson and Fabinho. Yet, he put in a strong performance, playing 79 minutes.
Since the draw with Chelsea, Jones has been ever-present in the Liverpool starting XI. He played 60 minutes versus Arsenal in a 2-2 draw, 90 minutes in Liverpool’s 6-1 hammering of Leeds, 81 minutes in the 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest, and 84 minutes in this week’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over West Ham. The match against Leeds was Jones’ best, as he picked up an assist courtesy of a sumptuous pass for Diogo Jota to lash home.
Liverpool are unbeaten in five straight matches, and Jones started all five of those fixtures. Let that sink in. Liverpool’s defence wasn’t great in any of those games, conceding six goals. Yet, the attack did just enough, and the Reds are back in the hunt for a top-four place. It is a long shot, but Liverpool still have six matches and 18 points to play for.
Curtis Jones is putting in the performances
Although Joel Matip took home the man of the match honours for a brilliant defensive performance and the winning goal against West Ham, Jones was solid in the centre of the park. He had a 94% pass success rate, completing 67 of 71 passes. Three of those 71 passes were key passes, opening up West Ham’s defence. Jones wasn’t just strong in the final third. He tallied five tackles, made two interceptions, and had 89 touches of the ball, according to WhoScored.com.
Let us not kid ourselves, Liverpool need midfield reinforcements. Since announcing their intentions not to sign Jude Bellingham, which could simply be a negotiation tactic, Liverpool have been linked with Alexis Mac Allister, Moise Caicedo, and Declan Rice.
Signing two of the three midfielders makes far more sense than signing just Bellingham. The amount of money to sign two midfielders would likely be the equivalent of the current asking price for Bellingham. Some supporters want Fenway Sports Group to spend money this offseason. The crazy spending by Petrol-State-funded teams has altered the way some football fans look at transfers and team building. This isn’t FIFA or Football Manager, and it isn’t that easy to buy players when funds aren’t available.
Jones’ recent performances pose Liverpool with a difficult decision. The Curtis Jones of the last five matches is the player supporters expected him to become. It has taken time and several injuries for Jones to reach this level.
There is no guarantee Jones can remain fit for a full season. Yet, the last five matches show Jones can make a significant impact on Liverpool next season, potentially becoming the attacking midfield alternative to Bellingham.
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