Jurgen Klopp learned his lesson. In each of Liverpool’s last two matches, Curtis Jones had been hooked in the second half and in each of those two matches, against Manchester City and Leicester City, the Reds suffered a subsequent collapse. This time, Klopp kept the 20-year-old on the pitch for the full 90 minutes against RB Leipzig.
Liverpool arrived in Budapest for their Champions League last-16 first leg on the back of three straight defeats, but this was much more like it from the Premier League champions. There was an intensity to their performance from the start that had been missing of late. The edge was back as Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win to put one foot in the competition’s quarter-finals.
The contribution of the two goalscorers, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, was the focus of much acclaim, with the latter scoring for the third successive game. While the Egyptian’s performances and body language have been questioned at times this season, his output remains as high as ever - 24 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions.
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Trent Alexander-Arnold has endured a difficult campaign to date, but the 22-year-old was back to something near his best in Hungary, providing an outlet down the right wing while cutting out the mistakes in defence. It also helped that Alisson Becker managed to go 90 minutes without a gaffe.
But it was Jones who gave Liverpool drive through the centre of the pitch. Against an RB Leipzig side renowned for their intelligent movement and high pressing, Klopp recognised the need to match up. Liverpool bettered their Bundesliga opponents in every area of their own game and Jones led this effort in the midfield.
He was smart with the ball at his feet, producing the assist for Liverpool’s second goal - although some dreadful defending from Nordi Mukiele was certainly a factor in Mane being released clean through on goal. Nonetheless, Jones facilitated the attackers ahead of him in a way that hasn’t always been true of Liverpool’s midfielders this season.
Injuries have provided the primary storyline of Liverpool’s 2020/21 campaign so far. It can be argued Klopp should still be making more of the talent he still has in the dressing room, but there’s no denying the Reds are weaker for not having the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Joel Matip available.
The emergence of Jones as a key figure capable of imposing his game at the elite level has been one upside to the current situation Liverpool find themselves in. The growth of the 20-year-old in the last few weeks has been remarkable. It’s not just in his technical ability, but in the way Jones works selflessly for the team. There is no ego, only hunger.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain used to offer Liverpool many of the same qualities Jones brings to the midfield unit. Converted by Klopp from a winger into a central midfielder, Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the Reds dynamism between the lines of transition and this is something Jones is now doing.
Even in the way he uses his pace to track opposition runners attempting to break the Liverpool high line, Jones is a very valuable member of the team right now. There was a moment in the defeat to Manchester City that illustrated this perfectly, with Jones catching up with Phil Foden to prevent him from going clean through on goal. Jones covers a lot of ground, as illustrated by his touch map against RB Leipzig.
Of course, as soon as Liverpool’s injuries clear up Fabinho and Jordan Henderson will be back as Klopp’s first-choice midfielders alongside Thiago Alcantara or Georginio Wijnaldum. But Jones has done enough to ensure he remains a part of Liverpool’s plans beyond the current situation.
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01/10/2022 AT 17:45