Homegrown Jones decisive for Reds as debutant Minamino fades after early promise
All eyes were on Takumi Minamino.
With Jurgen Klopp confirming most of his star players were to be rested for the visit of Everton, his new signing was to be thrust straight into the action in front of expectant Reds fans.
Minamino's ability and mentality had been plain to see at close quarters for Liverpool already this season, the Japan international having played against his new club twice in the Champions League with Salzburg.
His displays in that competition suggested Minamino was perfectly suited to Liverpool, stylistically at the very least.
A comfort on the ball, clever movement in attack and creativity marked the Japan international out as a standout player in the group stage of the competition, and he ranked among the most productive players in terms of assists and big chances created.
Those traits also suggested he could fit in perfectly with Liverpool's incumbent attacking trident of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
None of those featured against Everton on Sunday, as Minamino played his first game since a £7.25million from the Austrian champions. Flanked by 16-year-old Harvey Elliott and Divock Origi, there were hints of promise.
The new arrival filled the role usually taken by Firmino and it was easy to see why, particularly in the first half, as Minamino often dropped deep to link up with the midfield, showcasing his associative quality.
A burst in the 33rd minute showed precisely what Minamino will bring to Liverpool, as he took up possession in midfield and drove forward alone, before being hauled down. Unlucky to not win a free-kick, the forward had relieved pressure on the midfield trio and singlehandedly started an attack.
The two first-half occasions that Liverpool looked most likely to score from had Minamino at the centre – firstly glancing a header just wide having found space behind Yerry Mina, then forcing a poor back pass with his pressing, nearly getting there ahead of Jordan Pickford.
But let's not get carried away – it was by no means the perfect debut. Minamino spent much of the second half – before his 70th-minute withdrawal – frustrated, with Liverpool moving the ball a little slower and Everton preventing him making runs in behind.
With Liverpool in control more than they had been before half-time, Minamino found it difficult to find space amid Everton's packed defence and he doesn't have the physical prowess to be that kind of nuisance.
The FA Cup third round, a Merseyside derby – it had the makings of the ideal bow for Minamino but, perhaps fittingly, it proved to a be a local kid who stole the show.
When Minamino was struggling to make an impact, 18-year-old Curtis Jones came to the fore. The attacking midfielder relished the fact the Reds were seeing more possession, allowing him to flourish.
Mostly working from the left, Jones was gutsy and showed admirable confidence on the ball, often looking to beat his man or pick out a key pass – of which he ended the game with a joint match-high of three.
The Liverpool academy product has long been held up as a potential homegrown star and showed why there has been so much hype with his winning goal.
After an eye-catching flicked pass into the box for Origi, he got the ball back, took a touch and curled an audacious 20-yard effort into the top-far corner, out of the reach of Pickford.
In a contest that was typified by work ethic – or lack thereof in Everton's case – this was a moment of pure individual inspiration, rightly deciding the match.
While Minamino's performance was far from thrilling, he did show glimpses that suggest he will fit in perfectly with Klopp's style of play, eventually.
Jones, however, already appears to be the archetypal Klopp midfielder - crafty, snappy and confident.
With James Milner suffering an injury early on and Jones thriving against a full-strength Everton, further chances should be just around the corner for the Reds' academy product.
Now all eyes are on Jones.
Published 06 Jan 2020, 01:00 IST
Scouser pic.twitter.com/7W2tYsM4vH— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 5, 2020