This is a new series that I want to do from time to time. The concept is simple. I will talk about why I rate a player higher than the vast majority of people.
The first edition will feature Curtis Jones. I picked him for the first edition of this series, not only because I support Liverpool but also because Curtis is one of the most overhated players I’ve seen.
Trigger warning for the eye test truthers that can’t stand statistics; I’ll use fbref only to profile Curtis Jones, not to prove his quality.
Looking at where Curtis stands amongst the midfielders, we can clearly see he is a cm that contributes directly to goals quite a bit. For years, the main discussion about Liverpool midfielders have been around their (lack of) direct contributions. Now that Liverpool has a player (from their own academy) that is very much what the fans screamed for years, his reception has been very harsh.
This transition should be the main talking point in the Curtis debates in my opinion. Learning a new position is always hard but from wings to midfield is a different beast.
Receiving out wide is very different to receiving between the lines. When you receive out wide, you have the touchlines behind you. The touchlines can be an extra defender if used right, but they also allow attackers not to worry about most angles around them. This allows them to better focus on what they face, which makes the position intrinsically more direct than other positions since you only have what you face on your mind.
Receiving in between the lines, is the exact opposite of this. You are in the central midfield areas which most teams try to crowd to achieve central compactness. This creates a whole different situation where you have to worry about defenders coming from every angle and you have less time since the areas are more crowded. You also have to be much less direct/expansive in central areas since a turnover is much more costly centrally than it is out-wide.
In Curtis, Liverpool have a player that can do both at a very respectable level. Curtis brings ball retention to wherever he goes too. His pass completion percentiles among midfielders in his early years of playing the position shows exactly that. Curtis can hold onto the ball whatever happens around him, which is funnily enough a concern for his game. He, at times, holds on too long where he should release the ball. I call this the overcompensation problem. Because of his transition, he has been learning to be more and more careful with the ball (rather than direct) and he sometimes over-relies on his new learnings. But, the needed balance will be in place with time. People forget that Curtis is still only 21 after all.
On top of being comfortable in both deep and wide areas (which is very rare on its own) Curtis is also a 360° player. He is comfortable with all angles. Weak foot, understanding of angles and space, and agility comes into play here. And, Curtis has them all. This angle-less-ness in his game makes him that much more useful of a profile. Allows for more fluid positional rotations around the pitch too.
Liverpool only had a loss and 3 draws (one against Man City) in Curtis’ 19 starts last season, which is a pace that would’ve won the league last year. This is, obviously, not to say we would’ve won the title if he started the whole year. It’s just to show that Liverpool are still in an elite condition with Curtis on the starting XI. And, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that actually analyzes Curtis’ game.
High level goal/assist contribution as an 8, dropping deep to aid buildup with his ball retention, ability to carry the ball into 2nd and 3rd phases, being a key player for positional rotations, offering ball retention out wide to help the team settle in the final 3rd, good in tight spaces which allows the team to sustain pressure, forcing the issue with his ballstriking at times, being able to pull the trigger when he finds space…
Enough talking for now, I’ll show some examples of Curtis’ strong points. Starting with the easiest one, ballstriking. And the ability to force the issue that comes with it.
Let’s do a bit of buildup stuff, ball retention on deep areas. Only have the shiny stuff because I don’t have the time to watch a whole game to show you the simple ones. But, I can confidently say that Curtis moves very well to offer himself during the first phase.
Let’s look at some ball retention in wide and advanced areas, which helps the team settle in the final 3rd and also sustain pressure.
Innovativeness. One of the most important attributes for midfielders for me. Creativity in how you play. Some quick thinking, some weird touches. That’s what I love.
Some more clips that I wanted show.
Well, I’ve been raving about Jones for some time now. Aren’t there any problems with his game? There sure are, though I don’t find any of them permanent.
First off, we haven’t talked about any out of possession stuff. And sometimes with Curtis out of possession means out of position.
I actually wrote my first piece on some of Liverpool’s defensive struggles at the start of last year. And, Curtis’ defensive positioning was featured on there.
Sometimes he gets his positioning wrong, sometimes he just loses focus. Both are very fixable issues. And, I believe with time it will get better as he goes on with his positional transition to an 8. It also has to be mentioned that his intensity and willingness while pressing is a strong point for Curtis defensively.
Offensively, my biggest knock on Curtis is his passing range. His ballstriking is there but he doesn’t operate with passing range nearly ever. Not every midfielder has to be a long passer but it’d definitely help Curtis open up the pitch even more.
The other concern is the mental side of his game that I talked about above. His decision making and release timing should and will be improved with time in my opinion.
In Curtis Jones Liverpool have produced a very quality midfielder, with a useful and a versatile profile, that has a natural path of progression before him. The obsession with transfers and incomings are a major reason Curtis isn’t rated that highly among the general Liverpool fanbase.
Another big reason is that he is neither the most physical, nor the most fancy midfielder you’ll see. The things he does well, aren’t the first thing a football fan will notice on the football pitch. But, he offers a very intriguing skillset nonetheless as I tried to show you.
Thank you for reading the first edition of this series. I have some other names in mind already for this concept so it hopefully won’t be too long before I write another one.