Liverpool look like they have squeezed a diamond out of their coal-black season.
Curtis Jones is making a habit of shining on the darkest occasions. He was the star turn when his side paid tribute to the sad passing of Gerard Houllier with victory over Tottenham Hotspur in December.
And although the 20-year-old’s latest goal against Sheffield United may never be rated among his most important in what will surely be a gilded career, there will be none more poignant.
“I would like to dedicate this (goal) to Ali’s (Alisson’s) father,” said Jones.
“If Ali sees this, this is for you. He is a strong lad, a big part of the team. And we miss him. I want to dedicate this to him and his family.”
Jones was, of course, referencing Liverpool’s goalkeeper, whose absence in Bramall Lane put some of the club’s sporting difficulties into perspective. Jurgen Klopp granted the Brazilian compassionate leave following his father’s tragic death.
It is the maturity of Jones which, allied to Liverpool having so many other problems to focus on, has perhaps seen his elevation go more unnoticed than would normally be the case.
When Klopp is asked about the Academy graduate, he often gives a knowing smile emblematic of a less sensitive approach that might be afforded to other young players. From day one of this season, Jones has been treated more like a senior professional than an inexperienced graduate making his way. Jones does not look like he needs or craves the reassurance of hugs or hand on the shoulder. Certainly not on the pitch, anyway.
Lest we forget, when he announced himself on the biggest stage with the winner in last year’s FA Cup tie against Everton, his post-match interview included a reference to being frustrated at lack of game time. For context, Jones was 18 and Liverpool had won all but one of the Premier League games. When told about the interview Klopp laughed, unsurprised by the sentiments.
Such is Jones’ self-belief and free spirit, he would often turn up for training at Liverpool’s academy wearing his boyhood hero Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirt, undaunted by querying looks about whether it was appropriate for him to so openly express his admiration for a Manchester United icon on sacred Anfield ground.
“There's being confident and being cocky – I think there's a fine line in between that. I don't want to have people think that I'm going over that,” Jones said when asked about his on-field demeanour recently.
"I'll always believe in myself to know that anybody that I'm up against, if you get the better of me in one game, then there's only one thing on my mind: the next game when I play against you, I'm going to beat you, it'll literally be me for the whole game playing against you.”
Channeling that independence was the objective for the youth coaches, and in some respects it has been no different to Klopp as he instilled a discipline which means Jones has shone in his midfield three.
Some of Liverpool’s worst moments recently came when Jones vacated that critical zone, most notably the calamities against Manchester City and Leicester City. Jones was subbed with the score 1-1 against City, and his side 1-0 up against Leicester. Klopp did not make the same mistake when sending on James Milner to help see his side through in Sheffield, replacing Thiago Alcantara instead.
There was a touch of the carrot and stick about the manager’s praise for Jones post-match on Sunday, too, as he was effusive in praising ‘exceptional’ talents, while in the next breath pointing out ‘there is much more to come’.
So many expensive recent midfield signings at Anfield were brought to add a fresh dimension.
Jones’ accomplished finish on Sunday night, allied to his creativity and poise, shows that those calling for more Liverpool goals from midfield next season may be ignoring that the solution is staring at them.