Harvey Elliott: Liverpool’s Future?

Harvey Daniel James Elliott was born on April 4th 2003 in the small town of Chertsey.

With a population of only 15,967, this town in Surrey has produced some notable residents, such as late comedian Sean Lock and Olympian Tim Brabants. There has also been another England footballer in Rob Green born in this small countryside setting. But Chertsey’s latest superstar is Liverpool Football Club’s new star boy, Harvey Elliott.

Born in the South East of the country, he learned his trade at the London based Queens Park Rangers. He played the majority of his youth career for the Hoops, before being signed by Fulham at under-18 level where he continued to excel. He was simultaneously showcasing his skills on the international stage with England.

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On the 25th of September 2018, Elliott made history for Fulham. At only 15 years and 174 days of age, he came on in a third round EFL Cup win away at Millwall. He is still the youngest ever player for Fulham’s first-team and the youngest ever to appear in the cup competition. He made his Premier League debut in May 2019 at 16 years and 30 days old, which was a record at the time. 7 months after this he signed for the club he supported as a boy – Liverpool.

Life at Anfield

On Merseyside, Elliott continued breaking appearance records – he is now the youngest player to ever start a match for the club and the youngest to ever start a match at Anfield itself. Despite having a relatively quiet season with the first team, he did make waves in the academy – contributing 12 goal involvements in 19 games.

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Not wanting to hinder the development of the young Englishman, Jurgen Klopp sanctioned a loan move to Blackburn Rovers in the Championship. Still only 17 at the time, you would have expected Irish head coach Owen Coyle to ease him into action. Yet the talent must have been clear to Doyle early on, as the Liverpool loanee racked up 41 appearances and was second in the league for assists – setting up his teammates 11 times over the course of the season. He also put the ball in the back of the net on seven occasions in 20/21 – one of which was voted Blackburn’s goal of the season.

Off the back of a successful loan spell, Elliott returned to Liverpool and hit the ground running, seeming to have broken into Klopp’s starting 11 almost immediately. A good preseason only compounded the feeling of excitement around him in the lead up to the 21/22 season.

A bump in the road

Only 4 games into the Premier League season, Elliott collected the ball and was carrying it over the halfway line when Leeds defender Pascal Struijk made a challenge from behind and caused serious damage to Elliott’s ankle – with the Liverpool medical team confirming that it was a fracture-dislocation to the left ankle.

This left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone at Liverpool Football Club, despite their 3-0 victory on the day – but they knew the talent they had on their hands, and they knew he would come back stronger.

We have to be there. We will play football without him, but we will wait for him because he is a top, top, top player.

Jurgen Klopp’s post-match reaction to the injury sustained by Harvey Elliott

Everyone at Liverpool Football Club was correct in their valuation of Elliott. Many outside the club’s walls thought that may be an early end to the 21/22 season for Harvey, but he was determined to get back and worked harder than ever to do so. Months ahead of schedule, Elliott returned – and he was back with a bang.

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In February 2022, Liverpool took on Cardiff in a fourth-round FA Cup tie. There was plenty of excitement surrounding the fixture, with the debut of new signing Luis Diaz being the talking point. However, it was Harvey Elliott that stole the show when he scored his first goal in red on his return, setting the Anfield crowd alight.

He was patient coming back and he’s still a fearless boy and a great footballer. Getting this goal was a really touching moment.

Jurgen Klopp on Harvey Elliott’s return and goal

Fast forward 12 months and Elliott is a regular in the first team, having played 29 times for Klopp this term. However, he has struggled to nail down his role in the side, having been deployed in the midfield three and spending time on both wings, it is unclear as to where he makes his name in the starting eleven.

What is his best position?

Looking through an individual scope, you’d say Elliott’s best position is on the right wing, where he can occupy space between the lines and cause trouble from the half-spaces for opposition back lines.

For such a young player, Harvey has graced the pitch 135 times already in his career, 81 of these (60%) have come from the right wing – where he has contributed 38 goals and assists. His second most common role is as a 10 (attacking midfielder), where he has played 37 times – but with only 7 goal contributions, he has failed to be as influential in that role as he is out wide. When playing on the wing, Elliott has 0.469 goal contributions per game, compared to just 0.189 when he’s been deployed in a central role.

This season at Liverpool, he has been deployed as one of the midfield 3, in what has been labelled as a box-to-box role in most Klopp teams through the seasons. Standing at 5-foot-7, he doesn’t fit the mould of a Jurgen Klopp midfielder, who are typically known for their athleticism and engine. This won’t discourage Elliott on a personal level – he has been the youngest and often smallest player on the pitch his whole career, from playing at U18 level as a 14-year-old, all the way up to the current day. Yet, as much as he brings defensive intensity, his impact on protecting the back 4 doesn’t quite reach the same level as his attacking prowess.

How does he compare to players in his positions?

Central Midfield

As previously stated he has been deployed as a midfielder more often than not this season, usually in the right sided role that has been frequented by club captain Jordan Henderson in the past. However, at 32 years old, Henderson is beginning to decline and is in need of replacing.

Henderson’s best season in this role came in the 2019-20 season, where his excellence was awarded by the Football Writers Association (FWA) as their player of the year. His peers also noticed his fine displays as he led Liverpool to their first title in 30 years – he was voted both Liverpool and England player of the year – so for comparison purposes against Harvey Elliott’s current season, I will use the 2019/20 as reference.

The most glaring difference between the two players is the way they play this role – Henderson thrives as a much deeper box-to-box player, facilitating the ball progression through the thirds, whereas Elliott tends to be more advanced playing more like a mezzala (half-winger) as evidenced by their stats on fbref.com.

The defensive duties are much more prevalent in Henderson’s game, being in the 88th percentile for tackles in the midfield third, compared to Elliott who is drastically lower in the 3rd percentile. Henderson is also in the 92nd percentile for tackles in the attacking third, but Elliott does hold his own in this third defensively also with an average of 0.4 tackles per 90 (71st percentile). This shows a more complete defensive coverage by Henderson – something that Elliott currently hasn’t got the skillset to replicate, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t make the effort in the final third.

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On the ball is where Elliott stands out in comparison to his elder countryman. He plays more football in the final third of the pitch, averaging 27.34 touches in the attacking third per 90, putting him in the 94th percentile. In contrast, Henderson averages the majority of his possession in the middle third of the field, with 55.98 touches per 90 (96th percentile). Both are progressive passers of the ball, Henderson averaging 6.96 passes into the final third per 90 puts him in the 94th percentile, displaying the progression from deep areas as a cornerstone of his playstyle. Elliott on the other hand is progressive in a more decisive area, he is in the 97th percentile this season for passes into the penalty area per 90.

The different areas of operation may then explain the contrast in their attacking influence, with Elliott’s average of 3.79 shot-creating actions per 90 being much higher than Henderson’s 2.13.

It’s not to say that either is more adept at what they do in the midfield – it simply highlights the varying characteristics each player has, despite playing in the same position on the right of the midfield.

Henderson can deputise as cover in the deeper parts of the field, however Elliott favours the half space on the right side of the opposition box, which is often a crowded area with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohammed Salah also looking to influence the game. This may lead to a shift in tactics from Jurgen Klopp if he is to accommodate all three in the attacking phases.

Right Wing

Similar to Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Salah has been pivotal for Liverpool since his arrival in 2017. Given that Salah has just signed a contract renewal worth over £350,000 a week, being only 30 with continued high levels of output, it is unlikely that young Elliott is going to displace the Egyptian in the near-future. But being only 19, Elliott has plenty of time to hone his skillset in the eventuality that he does become the starting winger on the right side.

Again, I have used fbref.com to compare Salah’s current season with Elliott’s.

Mohamed Salah has been setting defences on fire up and down the country, winning 3 of 5 Premier League Golden Boot awards in his time at Liverpool. He may not be up to his regular scoring antics in the league with only 7 this campaign so far – his lowest figure at this point in the season since joining Liverpool, but he is still in the 98th percentile for shots per 90 with 3.2. Elliott’s figure is much lower at 1.61.

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Salah is more of a goal threat when deployed on the right than Harvey, but with Darwin Nunez being more of a focal point in the attack this season, it may be that the goals will come from elsewhere and the right wing position may have to evolve to facilitate this.

This evolution may come in the form of more service into the Uruguayan forward, which Salah is more than capable of providing, showcased in his assist tally in the league last season – standing at 13, more than any other playmaker in the league. However, this adaptation may suit Elliott’s game more than the current role played by Salah.

Elliott averages 0.40 crosses into the box per 90, whereas Salah averages just 0.16. Elliott is also averaging 0.23 assists per 90, putting him in the 95th percentile this season for both attacking midfielders and wingers alike. Production and service in this form may suit Darwin’s behaviour in the penalty area, whereas Salah is used to having a false 9 in the form of Roberto Firmino facilitating shots for him instead.

So where should he play?

If Jurgen Klopp insists on playing an energetic midfield that acts as a cover for attacking wing-backs, then it is hard to argue that Elliott fits the mould. A small frame with little impact in the defensive and midfield thirds doesn’t equate to the box-to-box midfielder that Klopp has frequently used, and it doesn’t seem as if the requirements for a Liverpool central midfielder will change anytime soon. Perhaps with Liverpool’s current midfield lacking in quality and numbers, is Elliott being deployed here as a stop gap?

What is more likely for Elliott is to settle in at right wing, whether it is to deputise for Salah in the short-term or with a longer vision of the role being his alone, it is clear that his best football comes from this position on the pitch. In the final third, his ability to link the play with the other forwards and create high-quality chances is perfect for what Klopp is going to need, with the goals coming from more central areas in his attack.

Whatever the decision, and whichever path is taken, Harvey Elliott has an important ally on his side… time. At 19 years of age, Harvey Elliott has the best part of the next decade to find a home in the side.