Liverpool’s young players have won much acclaim this season.
Curtis Jones, Caoimhin Kelleher, Neco Williams, and Rhys Williams have all played a big part in the Reds’ campaign — probably owing to the injury crisis that has engulfed the first team and the opportunities it has given them to play — so far and have done themselves proud with some strong performances.
Another Liverpool youngster — albeit one who is out on loan — is excelling this season is Blackburn Rovers’ loanee Harvey Elliott.
At only 17-year’s old, the attacking midfielder has consistently shone at Championship level and across several on-pitch roles. To date, the England youth international has played on the left side of the front three, the right side of a front three and in centre midfield for Tony Mowbray’s promotion-chasing Rovers.
The diminutive attacker has scored two Championship goals and laid on four assists in 12 appearances, but those statistics only scratch the surface of his effectiveness and contribution. So far this season, the former Fulham player has averaged 2.6 key passes per 90, while also completing 60% of his dribbles.
Off the ball, too, and this is an area that will likely pique the interest of Jurgen Klopp, Elliott is busy and productive; he averages .8 interceptions a game and .9 tackles, despite playing in a league notorious for it’s physicality and for teams that play rudimentary, route one football.
Elliott, despite only joining the club a couple of months ago, is already Blackburn’s key hub of creativity and most of Rovers’ moves flow through the Liverpool loanee. With his cultured left foot, the teenager’s vision, weight of pass and spatial awareness is abundantly clear. It’s also apparent that, with due respect to his team-mates, the youngster is sharper of mind than those he plays with.
In the Ewood Park team’s most recent game, a 1-0 defeat away to Bristol City, Elliott registered five key passes — which is a pass that leads to a shot on goal — and created the visitors best chance, per XG, but his teammates were unable to capitalize on the service he provided.
Looking forward, upon his return to Liverpool, Elliott — if he can keep up his current rate of progression — can provide Klopp with a level of versatility that could allow the German to change shapes and tweak his formation from time to time. Invariably, the Reds’ line out in a 433, but at times this season their alignment has been a 442, a 424 or a 4231.
It is the right-hand slot of a 442 shape that the boyhood Liverpool fan could carve out a niche for himself when he returns to the club after the completion of his loan. Klopp has previously played Philippe Coutinho in a hybrid inside forward/centre midfield role but he tends to select his midfielders based on their physical attributes and their tactical discipline.
This will likely preclude Elliott from playing in the Reds’ engine room, barring a change of tactical heart from the former Borussia Dortmund coach, but there could be a vacancy for him on the right-hand side of a midfield four or, as it is also known, the box midfield.
The youngster also lacks the ruthlessness in front of goal — barring an upsurge in his form in front of goal — and he is more a facilitator than a scorer so it would be hard to envision him playing in the Anfield team’s front three, so it adds further credence to the idea of playing him on the flank of a box midfield.
In Manuel Pellegrini’s second title-winning season at Manchester City — where his blues narrowly pipped Liverpool in the table — the Chilean played a 442 shape with Samir Nasri and David Silva — two players who share Elliott’s physical stature and refined technical abilities — on the left and right wing’s respectively.
Yaya Toure and Fernandinho formed the midfield double pivot and City found a successful balance that allowed them to beat an all guns blazing attacking Liverpool team to the title.
As a mean’s to fit all his top players into the team at the same time, this is a formation which Klopp may consider in future, especially noting how Ralph Hassenhutl — a coach with similar footballing principles and adherence to intense pressing — has utilised the 442 successfully at Southampton without compromising his prefered style of play.
Similarly, Jones — who has played superbly in the Reds’ midfield three this season — could operate off the left hand side — cutting onto his stronger right foot, like Elliott on the opposite wing — could play on the left-hand side and offer the same level of attacking incision and vision of his fellow Liverpool youngster.
With Brexit putting even more of a premium on young British players’, the English champions are well prepared for the future and Elliott, wherever he plays on the pitch, will be a big part of that.