Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been struggling to find a utility man ever since James Milner decided to leave the club this summer, but he may have finally found his perfect replacement. The German boss decided to name 10 changes for their Carabao Cup third round win at home to Leicester City at Anfield, but there was one constant in the starting XI from their weekend victory over West Ham, a man Klopp felt he could not do without.
The German handed the captaincy to academy graduate Curtis Jones, who at 22 is becoming a bigger part of his plans at Liverpool. Having initially played the role of a bit-part player last season, the Merseysider has shown his value to his boss and the fans as a squad member who can play in several different positions.
That proved to be the case when Jones was deployed at right-back against the Foxes, with Trent Alexander-Arnold out injured and Joe Gomez therefore wrapped in cotton wool for the weekend fixture against Tottenham. In the hybrid role, he has the passing ability to drop into the midfield and help the team when in possession.
Not only that, the youngster puts in a solid shift whenever he is on the pitch and is never found wanting in that respect. Klopp has often shown a fondness for players who press at every opportunity and commit to giving their all on the pitch, even if there are more talented stars in the squad.
The 65-year-old often found a place for Milner in his side, but the position changed just as frequently. Perhaps even by his own admission, Milner was a simple player but one who could do a job in several areas of the pitch. He stepped in at left-back, right-back, centre midfield and probably would have done a decent enough job as a centre-back too if given the chance.
Jones does not quite possess the same physical attributes as Milner, but he is on the right track to follow his path as a utility man. What he is able to offer that Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch can’t is that precious versatility, and when legs get tired throughout the season, Klopp will turn to him to come into the side in a more defensive role, as he explained in August.
“In this actual set up how we have it and how the squad looks, he [Jones] is one of the options definitely [to play as a No 6],” Klopp said. “I think it’s no secret that we are still looking for players to join us, that’s one thing and the other is using what you have and I think Curtis can absolutely play that position.
“Can he play it when no one else is defending in the team? No, no chance. But then I don’t know any player who can do that.
“But if you really understand the situation how it is in this moment, a proven 6 is not available in the moment, do we make an excuse for that? During the season a lot of things can happen, it was always the case. We see it as a challenge and try to find a way to be compact anyway.”
On this occasion, Jones filled in at right-back. Next week, it could be in what used to be Fabinho’s role, and after that, he could be the most advanced of the midfield three. Either way, Klopp knows wherever he plays him, Jones will give his all – just like Milner used to in the Liverpool red.