When Jose Mourinho rattled off the Liverpool players who would be available to line up against Tottenham Hotspur, discounting the injuries to regular starters Virgil van Dijk, Diogo Jota, Thiago, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, he failed to flag a name.
Curtis Jones turned in a man-of-the-match showing in the 2-1 victory over Spurs at Anfield on Wednesday night in the latest evidence of his growth in stature and ballooning understanding of how to maximise his talents in and out of possession.
Jones has long been skilful too, with the feet to muddle markers and get the better of goalkeepers aligned with the vision for a decisive pass.
Over the past year since his integration into the first-team, he has developed powerful weapons to complement his natural talent. The Scouser has become a more rounded midfielder that is press-resistant and able to control situations.
He has matured with his decision making, learning when to keep things simple – more often than not – and when to scorch the opposition with a fine dribble.
That is owed to the culture created by the senior players at Liverpool, who have not only sharpened the teenager’s game, but his attitude and desire for betterment.
Jones played the most successful passes against Tottenham as well as the most in the opposition half. Only Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson had more touches of the ball than him, to sit alongside his four interceptions and nine possession gains.
Beyond the numbers, Jones’ comfort in a top-of-the-table contest and his bravery in possession was a treat to the eyes.
His performances particularly this month against Ajax, Wolves, Fulham and Mourinho’s men have been of a player that has made the position his; telling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri that it won’t be easy to wrestle it off him but for rotation reasons.
Rhys Williams, who made his Premier League debut with the almighty task of thwarting the prolific Harry Kane-Son Heung-min partnership, was another highlight on Wednesday night.
His glorious diagonal pass led to Liverpool’s opener and he handled Tottenham’s myriad threats, especially on the break and in behind, well for a 19-year-old chucked in the deep end alongside a midfielder at centre-back.
Jurgen Klopp’s youngsters – Neco Williams (19) and Caoimhin Kelleher (22) included – have contributed in a big way to help the champions navigate a lengthy injury list and a stacked schedule.
They’ve made 37 appearances between them as the club progressed to the Champions League knockout stages and reclaimed top spot in the league.
Considering the pressure on and expectations from Liverpool as well as their exacting standards and highest ambitions, to see academy graduates slotting in and making a difference speaks to the solid structure in place.
As assistant manager Pep Lijnders explained to the club’s official website: “These moments where you lose a top, top player automatically creates a big chance for a young player, because we invest a lot of time and we have a big commitment to them to be part of our squad.
“What I’m trying to say is: I feel really the best back-up plan is the academy.
“If the academy is right and there’s a fluid process between the academy and the first team, the best back-up plan is always young players because they never let you down – never, never. And that’s what you saw.”