When Curtis Jones scored in Liverpool’s victory over Sheffield United, he could have been forgiven for adopting a celebratory tone in his post-match interview.
But his immediate thoughts were not about helping his team end their four-game losing run. Instead, he said his thoughts were with team-mate Alisson following the death of the Brazil goalkeeper’s father.
It was the latest example of the growing maturity of 20-year-old Jones, who has developed into one of Liverpool’s senior players during a season in which Jurgen Klopp’s squad has been crippled by injuries.
While the loss of centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez dealt a heavy blow to the Reds’ title defence, Jones was given an opportunity to shine in midfield when regulars Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were forced to provide cover at the back.
Ex-Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock says Jones has “showcased what he can do”, while former Under-23s boss Gary O’Neil – recently departed for Bournemouth – believes he has “no real weaknesses in his game” and can go all the way to the top, following in the footsteps of club legend Steven Gerrard.
But what makes Liverpool-born Jones so special? How has he developed? And what is he like off the pitch?
‘Streetwise’ and the ‘Gascoigne arm’
Jones’ journey began in Liverpool’s academy where he started to catch the eye as part of Gerrard’s U18s side and Warnock says he “liked to beat people, had a trick and had pace”.
But it was his ability and tactical awareness to play in multiple positions that really impressed – something Jones showcased in Liverpool’s Champions League victory over RB Leipzig, where he picked up an assist.
“He understands the game, when to press, how to press and what angle to press from,” Warnock told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“He is stronger physically now and he has got tactical nous on the pitch. He is a little bit streetwise and has got an edge to him which I really like.
“His retention of the ball and his ability to hold players off is really impressive… I call it the ‘Gascoigne arm’, where the arm comes out and you protect yourself and the ball from the player coming in to close you down.”
O’Neil admits “growing up there were some concerns” over Jones’ size but his physical development and his “fantastic technical ability” mean he can “give the team what they need”.
“He is so athletic in his running and you can play him anywhere – you could play him wide in this system, you can play him in midfield – and he is so comfortable on the ball. He can play off both feet,” said O’Neil.
“It hasn’t taken him long to learn how Klopp wants things done, how the system works and where he fits into that.”