Curtis Jones may have not started the 2021-22 season quite as he hoped, but the Liverpool midfielder has been making up for lost time in his recent outings for the Reds.
After a breakout campaign that saw him go from talented prospect to first-team squad member, Jones' desire to hit the ground running this term was held up by a concussion diagnosis, having suffered a blow to the head in a pre-season friendly.
Absent for the opening win over Norwich City, the midfielder saw Harvey Elliott emerge in the opening weeks to provide further competition for a place in the team, only to then suffer a serious leg injury in the away win at Leeds United.
With Naby Keita once more missing time and Thiago Alcantara sidelined, Jones has capitalised on his opportunities. A first start against Norwich in an EFL Cup tie was followed by a goalscoring appearance from the off at Brentford, as he played 67 minutes in the pulsating 3-3 draw.
Jurgen Klopp retained Jones in the starting XI once more on Tuesday, lining him up alongside captain Jordan Henderson and anchor Fabinho, a midfield trio that made sure Liverpool seized control after a somewhat shaky start. His work in combination with full-back Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane on the left-hand side helped lead dominate possession, with the visitors enjoying 66.8 per cent of the ball as they coasted to a 5-1 win. The solitary surprise with the scoreline was that Porto even managed to get one.
Only centre-back pairing Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip made more successful passes than Jones in the lopsided contest, though no player wearing red managed more than his total of 49 in the opposing team's half.
Klopp was pleased with what he saw from a player who had to learn on the job in 2020-21, part of a Liverpool squad that had to come through a defensive injury crisis and produce a fast finish just to secure a place at the top table of European club football once again.
What made Jones' performance in Portugal even more impressive was how he had not been feeling well beforehand, as his boss revealed to the media.
"Curtis played a good game. He had some problems a little bit with the stomach before the game. They told me I need to keep an eye on him, but I told him after the game whatever it is, keep it because it was really a good game," Klopp joked.
"He played a really good game, he was everywhere, he was involved in everything. Set up the first goal with a surprising finish, goalie cannot save it. In a lot of other situations he was really there - maybe not as spectacular as the offensive stuff, but defensively he played a top-class game.
"He defended really well, pressed from the blind side, a lot of things I liked a lot about his performance tonight. So, let's keep going, Curtis, it was not bad tonight."
"Not bad" is an understatement. It was Jones' effort after cutting inside that led to Mohamed Salah tapping in to make it 1-0, while his determination to work his way out of a tight spot late in the game when under pressure led to a ball in behind that set up Roberto Firmino for the first of his late brace, albeit with plenty of help from wandering goalkeeper Diogo Costa.
That shot for Salah's opener was one of four attempts as he looked to follow up his rocket of a strike at Brentford. He had shown his willingness to have a go in the previous season too, averaging 1.69 shots per 90 minutes. His eye for goal led to him scoring four times in 34 appearances, including a Champions League winner against Ajax in December 2020.
While his defensive work may not get the same level of attention, but his manager certainly appreciated his efforts against Porto, which included winning seven of his 10 duels.
"I know, on paper, he’s so young, but I feel as though he has been around the first team for a few years now, he has settled in really well, he has matured really well," Henderson told BT Sport.
"Now you're starting to see what a good player he is over the last few weeks. He has had to be a little bit patient at the beginning of the season but he’s come in and he's done fantastically well.
"You can see he has got all the attributes to be a top player. I feel as though he is maturing all the time and he’s putting in some really good performances to help the team."
Patience has certainly paid off for Jones, who has made a compelling case to remain in the team when Manchester City visit Anfield on Sunday, as well as pushing for inclusion in Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming October internationals.