HARVEY ELLIOTT: LIVERPOOL’S MIDFIELD REINFORCEMENT
Teenage sensation Harvey Elliott returned from a hugely successful loan spell with Blackburn Rovers this summer and immediately looked a better player. Fans tracked his development in the Championship, where his 7 goals and 11 assists in 41 appearances saw him steer Rovers from relegation. He was together with Adam Armstrong, the best players at the club.
He was given some time off (six weeks according to James Pearce) in the off-season but chose to cut his holidays short in order to train at the AXA training ground and get into shape for pre-season. That sacrifice paid off as he reported for pre-season 2 kgs lighter. He was involved straightaway in pre-season with Jurgen Klopp commenting on how matured his game had become.
Klopp was so impressed, he started implementing the 18 year old in midfield instead of attack. Elliott played in a box to box role as the right sided midfielder in Klopp’s three man midfield. It is a role he took to with relish. Naturally a right winger, this role in midfield afforded him more of the ball and with more of the pitch ahead of him. It also put three forwards ahead of him to try and link up with.
An impressive pre-season was topped off by that performance at Anfield against Athletic Bilbao. His budding understanding with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold, his appreciation of space, his deftness of touch and eye for goal were all on show in a display where he rattled the crossbar after one lovely run. He was mixing it with the big boys and didn’t look out of place.
This led to Jurgen Klopp announcing after the game that Elliott is a new addition to the midfield. Gini Wijnaldum’s publicised move to PSG left a gaping hole in Liverpool’s midfield ranks and by that announcement, Klopp basically held Elliott up as the answer. Wijnaldum was never going to be replaced like for like, rather an attack minded midfielder was required. In young Harvey, Liverpool have that option.
He isn’t going to play 51 times like Gini did last season, those minutes will be shared between the plethora of midfield options at the manager’s disposal. What Elliott will provide, is akin to the role Xherdan Shaqiri played in his first season with the club. Shaqiri usually came into the side against teams that sought to park the proverbial bus. He would line up in midfield and create chances from deep with his passing ability.
Elliott provides a similar skill set and is similar in size with the Swiss as well as having a wicked left foot. With Shaqiri however, Klopp had to change to a 4-2-3-1 system to accommodate him as his pressing work out of possession wasn’t up to the required level. Elliott is no slouch in that department however, and in a bruising encounter against Burnley, showed exactly what he was about.
After coming off the bench for a late cameo in the opening game of the season at Norwich, he was given his first start against the Clarets. He lined up as part of the midfield three, in the role he played throughout pre-season. What followed was a performance that belief his age. He was involved, demanding for the ball and looking to do some damage with it when he got it.
He didn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities either as he played the full ninety minutes and impressed. He had 76 touches of the ball, the second most of the Liverpool side after Alexander-Arnold, which goes to show how involved he was. His teammates trusted him with the ball and he more often than not used it well. His passing accuracy of 83% speaks to that fact.
No Liverpool player completed more passes in the final third (19) than him as he laid on 3 chances for his teammate, a figure only bettered by the two fullbacks. His moment of the game was a delightful assist for Salah’s disallowed goal that showcased his quick thinking in and around the box. As well as the quality in possession, was the work off the ball. 5 recoveries and an interception is evidence of a battling encounter against Sean Dyche’s grocks.
He won more fouls (5) than any other player as his quick feet proved too much for the opposition. It wasn’t a performance without fault, as he was caught in possession on the edge of his own box, in a move that saw McNeil test Alisson. He could also have done better with some final balls, but at 18 he’s got all the time in the world to improve. He was involved in the second goal as his exquisite chest control and layoff to Trent led to Mané smashing home.
Post game, Jurgen Klopp had this to say about the precocious talent: “Everybody wants to speak to me about Harvey and I understand absolutely, when an 18-year-old boy plays such a mature game, I can understand that everybody is asking. ‘But I was not surprised he played like this. That is exactly how he trained now for six or seven weeks since we are back, since he is back from loan. Yes, it was good.’
Going forward, Harvey can expect to play in even more games where the opposition yield almost all the possession to the Reds. He offers a playmaking ability from midfield, not to mention an eye for goal, and could be key in unlocking packed defences. With Xherdan Shaqiri also joining Lyon today, there will be further chances further up the pitch in attack, especially in Cup games. These are chances the youngster will be looking to smash out of the park.
The sky is the limit for the boyhood Liverpool fan and with the calibre of players around him, he can only develop even further under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp. This looks set to be a big season for the 18 year old and you wouldn’t put it past him to make his mark.