Player Analysis: Harvey Elliott – Youngblood by Lee Chun Hang
If there ever was a word to describe the past window, “Homecoming” seemed fitting. The Old Ladies look to rejuvenate the career of their former wonderkid in Moise Kean, after a tough spell with the Toffees; The once prodigal son of Atletico Madrid, Antoine Griezmann returns to the Wanda Metropolitano, as he sought reconciliation with those he had broken.
In the Premier League, Lukaku restored his status as one of the league’s top goal scorers, this time donning the blue of his boyhood club. Not least Cristiano Ronaldo, reunited with the place where his prestige was first endorsed and his dreams began, the theatre of dreams.
At Liverpool, transfer activities weren’t as active as their counterparts, with the only arrival being Ibrahima Konate. Perhaps the team didn’t need strengthening with the return of Virgil van Dijk and co., but the horror of potential injuries and lack of squad depth remains fresh in their memories. Hence, the decision to not replace Wijnaldum or Shaqiri in the team is seen as a recipe for disaster.
That said, in a summer of homecomings, Anfield has welcomed the return of their very own wonderkid. 18-year-old Harvey Elliott has returned from an impressive spell at Blackburn and looked to be every inch the replacement for Wijnaldum in the fulcrum of the midfield.
Youngest Player in the Premier League
“Harvey is on the bench and gets on the pitch because he deserves to.”
“He’s been outstanding in training over the past three weeks. He’s a special talent and we want to nurture him the best we can.” said Scott Parker after granting Elliott his Premier League bow, making him the youngest player (16 years and 30 days) to play in the Premier League since its induction.
That record in itself, is an acknowledgement of his maturity and talent beyond his age. A further recognition and approval from Scott Parker, who’ve seen it all throughout his playing years, speaks volumes to the vast potential Elliott was capable of, even as a schoolboy.
Being a Liverpool fan since young, there was only one place he’d go when his contract at Fulham expired. Today, despite unfortunate circumstances, he can call himself a Liverpool first team player at the age of 18, but more work is yet to be done.
The dashboard below shows why Elliott is highly regarded by the Kop this season. This analysis will cover the Englishman’s performance with his club in this current campaign. All figures below are based on performance per 90 minutes played, according to StatsBomb via FBref.
Throughout his short career, Elliott has largely been used as a winger. Despite that, he isn’t a classical winger, but an inverted one. He’d start out on the right and cut inside to central spaces, utilizing his stronger left foot to carve out passes rather than crosses. Last season, Elliott accumulated 7 goals and 11 assist from 41 appearances, majority of which starting from the right flank.
This season, there seems to be a change in Klopp’s system and plans for Elliott’s development. The departure of Wijnaldum may have forced Klopp into converting Elliott into a Mezzala – a midfielder who constantly drifts wide or into the half-spaces. What started out as an experiment in pre-season, has turned out to be a great solution for the departure of Wijnaldum and Shaqiri.
Unlike traditional midfielders, Elliott would often receive the ball at the right-half spaces of the pitch, where he is most effective in his time on loan at Blackburn Rovers. The majority of his passes also occur within the half spaces, often finding the feet of Salah and Alexander-Arnold.
Elliot and Alexander-Arnold are constantly interchanging in positions, which confuses opposition defences. Elliott’s wide position when Liverpool transition, leaves space for Trent-Alexander Arnold to exploit a more central area of the pitch, rather than the flanks. Moreover, Elliott’s positioning on the flank takes the attention of the fullback away from Alexander-Arnold. This enables him to be free of his marker, and more time to make delicate passes from the right-half spaces into the box.
We have seen such combination in the league already. The goal against Burnley was due to this brilliant set-up by Klopp. Elliott receives a long ball from van Dijk just by the touchline, taking the attention of Taylor away from Alexander-Arnold, who arrives at the half-space, unmarked. Elliott plays a simple ball to his right-back and without any real interference, Alexander-Arnold is able to play a beautiful ball to Mane, who scores.
Eye of a Needle
Playing Elliott in a more central position as opposed to a wide forward, would mean he could have more opportunities to play incisive passes forward to Salah. Despite only being 18, the teenager oozes classes in his technique, possessing an eye of a needle pass in his repertoire unlike many in his age group.
So far this season, Harvey Elliott is the 5 th most threatening passer in the Liverpool squad with a total of 0.43 Expected Threat accumulated from his passes. (For more information about Expected Threats, click here) In other words, Elliott is by far the most threatening midfielder in Liverpool, constantly looking to progress the ball forward to threatening areas of the pitch.
Part of the reason that explains this, is his knack for supplying killer balls into the final third or penalty area for the likes of Salah. According to the graph below, the 5’7 ft midfielder has accumulated 9.3 Progressive Passes per90 and an impressive 8.14 Passes into Final third or Penalty Area per90. Normally, deep lying playmakers dominate this metric as they are granted more time and space with the ball in deeper areas of the pitch. As we have discussed, Harvey Elliott plays in a more advanced role with less time and space to progress play. This makes it all the more endearing to see his numbers greater than the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount.
His passing prowess can be illustrated in this action against Burnley. Upon receiving the ball by the edge of the area, Elliott makes a quick turn before needling through a perfectly weighted ball past a group of defenders to Salah, who slots it home. Unfortunately, Salah was marginally offside, but it does showcase the youngster’s ability to thread a pass in the tightest of angles and spaces.
Good Carrier; Weak Dribbler
An underrated feature of Harvey Elliott is perhaps his work ethic. Elliott is one of Liverpool’s main outlets in transition. The prodigy always looks to drive his team forward whenever there is space ahead of him. He’d drop deep to receive the ball and charge upwards, driving the team forward before releasing a simple pass.
Amongst midfielders in the league this season, he is one of the most effective ball carriers with 8.79 Progressive Carries, and 3.57 of them being Carries into the Final Third per90. Only Smith-Rowe (4.55) and Kovacic (3.64) have accumulated more carries into the final third of the pitch.
Nonetheless, there are obvious weaknesses when it comes to taking players on in 1v1 duels. Despite playing as a winger for the majority of his career, Elliott had never been a prolific dribbler nor a high- volume one. There is no doubting his technical abilities to glide past players in tight situations, but at 5’7 ft, his small frame is often a disadvantage when it comes to facing stronger and faster defenders in the league. According to the graph below, he has attempted 9 take-ons but only completed 1 thus far.
When facing up with defenders 1v1, Elliott instead chooses his battle wisely and opts to manipulate the ball before passing it backwards to his teammates. Perhaps this is a sign of maturity, opting to choose the safe option and retain possession rather than fighting a losing battle. Nevertheless, it is still something that needs to be addressed.
In some cases, Elliott’s reluctance to use his right foot has caused Liverpool precious opportunities in key moments. The game against Chelsea illustrates this perfectly. As Elliott strides to the box, he looked to cut in with his left instead of taking it to the byline for a cross. This ultimately causes a delay in play, which gave Alonso the time to get back into position to put a tackle in. A potential opportunity wasted, but definitely something Elliott can work upon in the future.
Despite forming the Liverpool’s new attacking quartet with their attacking trio, Harvey Elliott is not short on his defensive duties as well. For an 18-year-old, Elliott has elite levels of fitness to not only provide an outlet on the attack but provide defensive cover to win the ball back immediately.
When compared with other midfielders this season, Elliott has accumulated 24.44 Pressures per90, with 18.8 of the pressures occurring in the middle and attacking third of the pitch. In fact, only Keita and Gallagher have more pressures high up the pitch compared to the teenager. The inclusion of Keita is perhaps indicative of the Gegenpressing system adopted by Klopp, and more importantly the defensive duties upheld by Liverpool’s midfield.
Elliott’s defensive actions map not only showcases a determined player that regularly tracks back to win the ball, but also a keen presser looking to retain possession in the attacking third of the pitch as well. His defensive showing was especially apparent in the game against Chelsea where the midfielder was a bundle of energy, winning tackles and making blocks.
Despite his tender age, Harvey Elliott has become a popular figure in the dressing room. His constant demand of the ball has earned the respect of many, as he was looking to be one of Liverpool’s more reliable players of the season. Only Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been the target of a pass more times than Elliott. This does show a young player, growing in stature and importance for the club.
He has also earned the trust of his manager, and more importantly the adoration of the Kop. Thus, it is especially cruel to see such an important asset carried off the pitch like that. Despite running out as 3-0 winners at Elland Road, apprehension masks over the ephemeral jubilation around the dressing room. Nobody would wish that upon anybody, not least a teenager with the world at his feet.
Elliott was living in a daydream, but now it’s more akin to a bleak storm. That said, Elliott knows he is not alone in his long walk to recovery. Synonymous to the anthem, Elliott knows that he, like every other Liverpool fans out there will never walk alone. They are in this together and though the near future seemed gloomy, at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky.
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