The thing about football squad construction is that, for teams that aren’t trying to sportswash, spend other teams into oblivion, or both, you often live a bit of a Schroedinger’s Roster experience: on paper, before matches are played, a full squad is both too full and lacking at once. Liverpool’s own summer mimicked this as there was the sense that, once the early business of locking up Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, the front office folks could turn their attention to other areas of the pitch. Then Fabinho and Jordan Henderson opted to follow the oil-paved road to Saudi Arabia and it suddenly felt like the middle of the park was thin.
Lost amidst the panicking that ensued, and the relief that came with signing Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch, was that part of the calculus among the personnel department at the club necessarily had to include an evaluation of the in-house options to pick up the minutes suddenly freed up by the former Reds.
Because both departures were folks that either explicitly spent their time at the 6 or, as was the case with Hendo, someone who could certainly plug into that spot and do a very capable job, most folks limited the scope of their assessments to Stefan Bajcetic. The young midfielder had made waves last season as they moved themselves into a similar position as Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones: young players that couple pick up starts while also gaining minutes mostly as reliable substitutes.
However, the aforementioned Jones often wasn’t considered in the thinking of most fans. For some, it was because Jones had often most been deployed as the left-sided central midfielder, providing interchange with and support for the left-winger and left-back. A box-to-box midfielder.
For others, it was that Jones development has seemed to stall. That unlike Elliott, there was clear competition ahead of him in that space (Thiago often took up that spot on the roster sheet) and that he hadn’t made the requisite leaps in ability to snatch back that place.
Then the summer happened. Jones took up the call to play further back the pitch and put up some notable performances.
Tellingly, that form has continued into this season. And with Jurgen Klopp still tinkering with his best configuration, Jones’ flexibility and demonstrated ability to perform well in positions further back has proven useful.
In recent weeks, I’ve noticed him be used in a double-pivot and the more defensive-minded player in the pair of 8s playing ahead of a 6. When Gravenberch was brought in, I feared that it might mean that Curtis would soon need to go elsewhere to find suitable minutes. Now, it looks a proper fight for the two 8 spots in the midfield with Dom, Harv, Curtis, and Young Gravy all being in the mix.
Suddenly, the bare cupboard in midfield is overflowing with options. And with the Other Scouser in the team flying high, fans should be quite pleased with the current state of things at Anfield.