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Curtis Jones wish coming true as Thiago Alcantara takes control for Liverpool

Curtis Jones can be counted

Confidence and self-belief have rarely been an issue for Curtis Jones.

So there should be little surprise at how the Liverpool youngster embraced the latest landmark of his still embryonic career.

Making his first appearance in the Champions League knockout stage is daunting for any 20-year-old, let alone when part of a team facing serious scrutiny on the back of just three wins in 12 games.

Jones, though, just took it in his stride – as he has done whenever faced with a new challenge.

Given the platform to play by the diligent defensive work of Gini Wijnaldum and graft and guile of Thiago Alcantara, Jones provided a link to the front three, spotted almost as much around the RB Leipzig area first half as he was in the midfield scrap.

Okay, there was a rather overly flamboyant flicked clearance in his own penalty area as the Bundesliga side pressed in the latter stages.

But Jones is now playing with a maturity, assuredness and intelligence that belies his tender years.

No wonder Jurgen Klopp spoke last year of looking forward to having fun with the player. He looks the part.

Having been somewhat harshly substituted against both Manchester City and Leicester City – the respective scorelines 1-1 and 1-0 when he departed – there was no sign of the midfielder being hooked early in Budapest.

Jones spoke recently of wanting to be a player Liverpool can count on. Quite simply, he now is.

Thiago on the turn

Thiago Alcantara would have been forgiven for hoping familiarity would breed contentment.

After such a difficult start to life at Liverpool, here the Spaniard was in a far more recognisable environment compared to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

The last time Thiago had featured in the Champions League, he was hoisting the trophy above his head as part of the Bayern Munich side that downed Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon last August.

Injury meant this was a delayed Liverpool debut in the competition, RB Leipzig a side he had remained unbeaten against in nine meetings during his time in Germany.

How the midfielder responded to a poor display at Leicester City on Saturday was always going to be key to Liverpool’s efforts of taking control of this tie.

And Thiago didn’t waste any time making his mark, dumping Marcel Sabitzer on his backside after 54 seconds.

Fears that would lead to a repeat of his recent foul-strewn outings were thankfully misplaced.

Instead, Thiago showed real discipline, both in his tackling and positioning, to help Liverpool take control of the game during the first half.

And the undoubted passing range was also there, releasing Mohamed Salah with one perceptive ball in the first half.

There remains plenty of room for improvement. But this was a lot, lot better.

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Jurgen Klopp won’t be fooled

Julian Nagelsmann must be sick of the sight of Jurgen Klopp.

Two of Germany’s most prominent coaches were all smiles when exchanging stories during a pre-match chat set up by UEFA.

But Nagelsmann could barely conceal how keen he is to prove himself by putting one over his more experienced compatriot.

That wait goes on. As when Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim took on Liverpool in August 2017, the young pretender was outwitted, his team well beaten.

Klopp, however, was wise to point out this tie is far from over.

While Liverpool, marshalled superbly at the back by Jordan Henderson, kept a first clean sheet in eight games, Leipzig were not without their chances, and should really have scored with practically the last kick of the match when the unmarked Hwang Hee-Chan dragged a shot across the face of goal.

Having reached the semi-final last season and already eliminated Manchester United this time around, the Bundesliga side know what it takes to succeed at this exalted level.

And with there being every chance the return game in three weeks will be back in Budapest, any Anfield factor will be negated.

Klopp, though, knows he still has Nagelsmann’s number – for now.

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