Liverpool’s unpolished gem Curtis Jones proves Reds still miss Philippe Coutinho magic

Liverpool v Inter Milan: Match in pictures

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There were glimpses where it might have just opened up. Curtis Jones trotted, jinked, weaved but ultimately struggled to help unlock the door. His quality and potential remains there for all to see but for now, matches like tonight – a Champions League knockout tie against a European giant in Inter Milan – seem a step too far.

Liverpool’s lack of control in midfield cannot be solely pinned on the youngster but his inexperience and the lack of solidity proved to be a major hindrance for the hosts.

As a playmaker, naturally, Jones was keen to try and open things up. He was positive and always looking for the final pass but the absence of Jordan Henderson – dropped at the expense of Jones – was telling.

It was a real surprise the Liverpool captain was cast aside for a game of this magnitude, regardless of the 2-0 advantage at the halfway mark following the first leg at the San Siro.

His booming, authoritative voice, determination and intensity in the middle of the park is unmatched. This tie was far from won and that was the case right until the final whistle.

But to Klopp’s credit, he was clearly keen to reward Jones – who has been missing from several recent matchday squads – with a chance to flourish. He continues to believe in him.

While this was not Jones’ best outing or finest showing, it would be needless to be overly critical of his performance and what this means for his prospects of making the grade at Anfield.

But what it did tell us, is that there would still be room for some Philippe Coutinho magic in this Liverpool side. Without a doubt.

While the Reds used the mammoth £142million fee they received from Barcelona in January 2018 to totally revamp their fortunes with the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, they are yet to fully replace their former Brazilian magician.

They have instead evolved into one of the best teams on the planet but a creator from midfield really would be another string to Liverpool’s bow.

Harvey Elliott may turn out to be that player, Jones may do too. But it probably won’t be yet.

And after watching Coutinho’s latest masterclass for Aston Villa on Saturday against Southampton, you can’t help but feel he would have made a big difference tonight against Inter.

Jones did not quite have the class and creativity to help Liverpool carve open the Italian giants – on a night where they seemed there for the taking.

It wasn’t entirely on the young Scouser but given the sacrifices – defensively and balance-wise – made to accommodate him, the Reds needed him to make an impact.

This soon became a basketball match. A frantic end-to-end firefight that could have gone either way. Nights like that rarely happen on Henderson’s watch.

Klopp was never going to re-sign Coutinho as that would undeniably send the wrong message. He could have even been forgiven for thinking his days were numbered after his Barcelona horror story.

Yet Villa now look to have landed a bargain – while Liverpool are left to nurture the frustrating Jones while also persisting with the inconsistent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It’s hard to envisage Klopp opting for either of those much during the run-in from here on in, yet his selections would suggest he is partial to a playmaker in midfield.

The lack of stability nearly cost Liverpool here against Inter, while the team’s failure to create also made for an uncomfortable night.

The ship has obviously sailed with Coutinho but when watching Jones, you couldn’t help but feel Liverpool were missing that creative spark and drive from midfield that they once treasured.

Liverpool have coped just fine without him but if Klopp does want to break up his tried-and-trusted midfield from time to time, signing a new playmaker may not be the worst idea…

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