Is Curtis Jones the future of Liverpool's midfield?

After becoming champions of England, Europe, and the world, the 2020-21 season was always going to be a challenge for Liverpool. Very few players across Europe had played as many minutes as the squad's regulars, and the ongoing pandemic only exacerbated the crowding of the club's fixture list. Injuries began to crop up, and players from the academy began to feature more often in the first team. As disappointments began to mount on the pitch, one of England's brightest young stars had a dazzling – if somewhat muted – coming out party.

At just 20 years old, Curtis Jones has become a force to be reckoned with in Liverpool's midfield. The smarterscout young prospect has filled in ably for the perpetually injured Naby Keita and has allayed the fears of supporters about the likely departure of Georginio Wiljnaldum this summer. To see why, here's a look at Jones's stats using a Premier League standard:

Jones's ball retention jumps out right away – his ability to keep possession has been outstanding over the past season and a bit, which is just what Jurgen Klopp expects from his midfield links. He's been a reasonably aggressive defender, if not always the best in quality, and his attacking output has been on the lower side for his position. But again, that's well in keeping with the Liverpool setup. To see how, here's a comparison with the same stats for Keita and Wijnaldum last season:

Jones's style of play this season is almost an exact match for Keita's in 2019-20. Yet Jones is even more similar to Wijnaldum when it comes to the balance between his tendencies to dribble, pass toward goal, and link up. All of the CMs have fabulous ball retention, and Jones has offered a bit more going forward than Wijnaldum. As we wrote about Wijnaldum a while back, though, his role has been more to create space and linkages for Liverpool's forwards than to threaten the goal himself.

Creating space by pulling defenders to the flanks has been part of Jones's role, too. Here's a comparison of the smartermaps for Wijnaldum and Jones this season:

Like Wijnaldum, Jones has been active mostly on the left. But he has also had a substantial share of his touches on the right, adding versatility to Klopp's lineups. And this range on the pitch has helped him to become the Liverpool midfielder with the highest involvement in the squad's goals, at 50%:

Another reason for Jones's involvement in dangerous attacks is his ability to get forward for a shot, often dribbling from the edge of the penalty area. Apart from when he's had his shots blocked, he hasn't missed the target yet in open play, either in the Premier League or the Champions League:

Jones has slotted seamlessly into Klopp's plans at Liverpool, but the combination of his youth and ability make us wonder how he would play in a different context. Would he prefer to operate further forward, or at least more centrally? Or might he like to sit a little deeper and dictate the play? Either way, there's sure to be much more to come from one of the breakout stars of the season.

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