With Adam Lallana’s career on Merseyside set to come to a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion this summer, there appears to be no inclination from Liverpool to rush into the transfer market for his replacement.
The 32-year-old England international is soon to be out of contract with no hope of resurrecting a once promising career at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp is fond of the former Southampton man and once dubbed him his “hunter” as he helped Liverpool claw back their Champions League place in 2016-17. However, injuries have blighted his career ever since, restricting him to just nine league starts in three seasons.
With the frenetic demands put on his midfield during a long season, Klopp could be forgiven for pressuring his employers into bringing in a suitable replacement without delay. However, the early indications are that the German is prepared to hand Lallana’s first-team role to exciting youngster Curtis Jones.
While it could be argued that giving such a responsibility to an inexperienced academy graduate is a bit of gamble, a closer look at Jones’s credentials provides some insight as to why he is a ready-made replacement for Lallana.
The local lad has been a real success story over the past 18 months. A star of Liverpool youth team set-ups, many had earmarked him for big things prior to his senior debut against Wolves in last season’s disappointing FA Cup exit.
An athletic, box-to-box midfielder, Jones has really begun cut his teeth this season as a part of Klopp’s squad. Since the turn of the year, the Liverpool manager is said to have been suitably impressed with the teenager’s progress and duly handed him plenty of game time to show off his ability around the senior team.
Jones has made eight appearances in all competitions, mostly in the domestic cups, impressing on every occasion. While he is an accomplished and composed footballer for one so young, what really forces him into Klopp’s plans is his work ethic and intelligence.
He is a real bundle of energy on the pitch, showing the kind of hardy internal combustion engine that is essential for Liverpool’s pressing game. More importantly, though, his positional discipline is also clear to see.
Most kids from the academy would bomb around the pitch with gusto all day long, but Jones has shown a real sense of when to hold his position and gotten to grips right away with his role in the team. This is all the more impressive considering his age and obvious preference to get forward as an attacking option.
That attacking instinct to break from the second three and link up with his forward teammates was evident during Liverpool’s combative FA Cup tie with Shrewsbury Town in January. His goal that night was reminiscent of so many in the Klopp-era. Breaking quickly from him a deep position, he raced on to Pedro Chirivella’s slide-rule pass to apply a really tidy finish at speed.
His form was further rewarded when he was handed the captain’s armband for the Shrewsbury replay at Anfield in early February, when he became the club’s youngest ever skipper at 19 years and five days old.
However his breakthrough moment in a Red shirt, undeniably came when the Toxteth born youngster smashed home a beautiful curling effort past Everton’s Jordan Pickford during January’s FA Cup Merseyside derby win. It was a goal of real quality that showed Jones perhaps has that vital penchant for the big occasion.
The fact he even had the nerve to go for it showed the mentality bubbling away below the surface, something which won’t have been lost on his manager or his teammates.
In fact, Klopp was quick to add to the growing harmony of praise swirling around the youngster in the aftermath of their derby victory: “I’ve known him three and a half years,” Klopp said post-match.
”He’s made big steps and will be a Liverpool player, if nothing strange happens, 100 per cent. That he scored this kind of goal, I’m not surprised. He is for these situations. But there’s still a lot to learn and a lot to improve. But sometimes we forget as well in training – he’s 18. Unbelievable.”
While Lallana is a slightly less physical player and more focused on intricate link up play between the lines, his work rate off the ball was always top notch. Jones has the capacity to duplicate this, whilst also bringing his obvious physical strength and box-to-box ability to proceedings.
There is still a long and potentially hazardous road ahead for the teenager on his way to a more sustained role in the senior team. However, with Lallana soon to be vacating a midfield slot there is one less player ahead of him for first-team contention.
Klopp has shown a preference throughout his managerial career in handing opportunities to younger players already under his guise at the club’s he’s managed. If Jones’s career trajectory continues, he could end up saving his boyhood club an awful lot of money as well as carving out a senior role from himself in the not too distant future.