Curtis Jones’ 58th-minute strike proved to be the most decisive act in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
It was a gift from Andre Onana who inexplicably gave up a high cross assuming it would bolt out of play, only for the 19-year-old academy product to continue his run and slot the ball into an empty goal.
But there’s an old saying that rings true here – the harder I work, the luckier I get. And there’s no question Jones’ goal was just reward for yet another impressive performance in Europe’s top competition.
As was the case in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Atalanta at the start of November, the teenager was the Reds’ continual driving force from midfield against Ajax.
In truth, he deserved to find himself on the scoresheet much earlier – after his first effort from the edge of the box forced a smart save from Onana, his second cannoned off the frame of the goal just as it looked destined to make the onion bag ripple.
Since the 3-0 thumping of Leicester City, Liverpool’s form has taken a downturn. It’s been followed by defeat to Atalanta, a draw against Brighton and a tepid victory over Ajax.
With Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold all sidelined, the porousness of Liverpool’s defence has inevitably been put under the spotlight, but in reality their forward play has been more underwhelming.
Those three games have consisted of just two goals while clear-cut chances have been few and far between. Versus Atalanta, Liverpool failed to test the goalkeeper once, and against Brighton they just didn’t get going offensively until the second half.
On Tuesday night, there was noteworthy improvement as Liverpool recorded their highest number of shots since the win over Leicester.
But it’s telling that their most consistent threat in that regard was Jones, who topped Liverpool’s shots charts with four. He also landed as many shots on target as Liverpool’s starting forward line of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.
Which is exactly why Jones is starting to feel like a player of increasing importance to Liverpool.
A lack of output from midfield was one of the curious idiosyncrasies of the Reds’ title-winning 2019/20 campaign – no midfielder scored more than four goals for them in the Premier League, and that’s certainly unusual when compared to the majority of their English crown predecessors.
It would perhaps be overzealous to categorise Jones as a goalscoring midfielder developing along the same path as Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, but he clearly has goal threat in his locker.
As well as demonstrating that in abundance against Ajax, he exploded onto the scene with a famous FA Cup strike against Everton and overall has averaged one goal every 231 minutes for Liverpool. Extrapolate that across an entire Premier League campaign and he’d have a haul of 15.
While that equation obviously needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, it nonetheless illustrates what Jones offers this Liverpool side with a huge clash against Wolves on the horizon.
Despite much discussion about Wolves looking far more open in Nuno Santo’s 4-2-3-1 setup, the Midlands side have still conceded just 18 shots across the 180 minutes in which they’ve used it this season, while the only goals they’ve let in game from a well-worked Arsenal set piece and a brief moment of switching off against Southampton.
They’re still a difficult side to break down while Sunday night’s win at the Emirates showed exactly what they can do offensively, so for Jurgen Klopp to ensure a win, he’ll need to incorporate as much goal threat as he can without skewing the balance of the team.
That’s why Jones feels like a potential difference-maker for the Premier League clash – a largely hardworking midfielder who seems to know where the goal is and will enter Sunday’s encounter high in confidence.
That should make him one of the first names on the team-sheet, especially bearing in mind Liverpool’s injury problems and the subsequent demand to balance out the game-time of the Reds’ most senior players to ensure more big talents and big personalities aren’t sidelined as well.
Of course, we can’t know for certain who Klopp will field on Sunday, but his post-match comments hint that he might well be in agreement.
“Curtis Jones, what a game, It’s amazing, I’m really proud. Curtis is a really good kid, a good player and I am happy to have him around. Sometimes with injuries there is always an opportunity and he has taken it.”
Two big games in such a short space of time is a big ask for a teenager. But sometimes momentum is the most important factor, and it feels as though Jones is riding the crest of a wave after Tuesday’s superb showing.
If he can take that into Sunday’s game, he might just have a telling impact once again.