Should Jürgen Klopp Trial New Liverpool Partnership?

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Elliott on the Outside

Towards the end of last season, Harvey Elliott became a peripheral figure in Liverpool’s first team. He started just one out of Liverpool’s last 11 Premier League games and featured in 113 minutes all together.

Considering, Elliott had played in all of Liverpool’s first 41 games before that, the sudden role reversal must have been difficult to take.

When Jürgen Klopp launched his Liverpool 2.0 in the summer and brought in three new positional rivals (Alexis Mac Allister, Ryan Gravenberch and Dominik Szoboszlai) pushing Elliott even further down the pecking order, Elliott must have been scratching his head wondering if he would ever be able to fight his way back into the side.

But unlike most, the Liverpool youngster did not go searching for pastures new and choose the easy way out. He decided to buckle down instead, and battle his way back to the top.

A strong start

So far Elliott, in terms of minutes in the Premier League, Elliott’s fortunes haven’t changed much in comparison to the end of last season. He’s started just one game out of a possible 16 in the league, and even in that one game he was plucked off at half-time. But what has changed is Elliott’s contribution. Despite only playing 297 minutes in the league, he’s already matched his total goal contributions from last season when he played a total of 1609 minutes in the Premier League.

His underlying statistics have been solid all season as well.

For Liverpool as per FBref, Elliott averages the most expected assists per 90 (0.28) and he also averages the most passes into the opposition’s penalty area (3.41) in all competitions. Meanwhile, for progressive carries he ranks in second place (3.53) just behind Diogo Jota (4.02).

Palace cameo

Elliott’s winner against Crystal Palace earned him headlines. His overall performance, in an albeit fleeting cameo should have given Klopp food for thought as well.

Elliott won all his duels, completed all his passes and on top of that also made two recoveries, and was a constant goal threat taking on two shots in the space of 16 minutes.

Given that some of Liverpool’s other options have knocks, or haven’t necessarily been as inspiring recently, there is now a genuine case for Elliott to be given a starting birth. But how do you fit him in, and for whom does he come in?

Elliott role?

Elliott’s most comfortable in the right-sided midfield position. That’s where he has played most of his minutes for Liverpool, and that’s where he thrives the most by cutting onto his preferred left-foot.

So far that role has been occupied by Dominik Szoboszlai, who already have five goal contributions in the Premier League. Dropping him would be harsh, and Klopp shouldn’t be forced to do that.

Instead, the Liverpool boss could move Szoboszlai over to the left to form a partnership alongside Elliott. It is a partnership that has the potential to give Liverpool the most amount of attacking threat from midfield. And it’s also one that Klopp hasn’t really used.

A new partnership?

Szoboszlai and Elliott have started just one game together. That game was against Brighton, where Elliott was subbed off at half-time with the Reds winning 2-1. In that game, Elliott’s dummy for Mohamed Salah played a crucial role in setting-up the Reds’ opening goal of the game. Meanwhile, later on Szoboszlai broke inside the penalty area to win a penalty which Salah would later convert.

Szoboszlai has played only a few handful of his minutes on the left-side for Liverpool. But it’s interesting to note, that both of his goals for Liverpool in the league have come from the left side, with Szoboszlai cutting onto his right foot. The first against Aston Villa, from outside the box, and then the second against Sheffield United.

Szoboszlai goal-threat

At Leipzig, Szoboszlai was mostly used on the right-side, where he was very good at arriving in the box to finish off chances. As you can see on his shot map below as per Wyscout, most of his goals for Leipzig were scored from inside the right-side of the penalty area.

But at Liverpool, there is no need for him to do that. Scoring goals like that from inside the box is Mohamed Salah’s job. On a side note, this graph can also accurately explain why Szoboszlai has only scored two league goals for Liverpool so far. To put it simply, he’s being asked to do a different role.

However, moving him to the left could increase Szoboszlai’s goal-scoring output. For the Hungarian national team, he often pops up on the left. And if we take a look at his last 75 shots for his country (excluding penalties) he often seems to score from the left as well.

Not only do his goals come from the left, but the key difference is that over half of his goals also come from outside the box.

One of Szoboszlai’s biggest weapons is his ability to shoot from long-distance. He is in a much better position to use that weapon if he is able to cut inside to his right foot from the left-side.

Elliott demonstrated the vice-versa of that against Palace. He weaved his way into the middle from the right side and cut onto his left foot to score from outside the box.

Exciting potential

By combining the two, Klopp could increase Liverpool’s goal-threat by tenfold from midfield. Not to mention, Klopp will also have his two most creative midfielders on the pitch at the same time. After all, Elliott has averaged the most expected assists per 90 for the Reds and Szoboszlai the second most shot-creating-actions (4.57) behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (5.35).

Given how well their partnership could work in theory, it’s a surprise that out of a possible 1440 minutes in the Premier League, Elliott and Szoboszlai have spent just 253 minutes together on the pitch. In those 253 minutes, Szoboszlai has three goal contributions and Elliott has one. Meaning, together they have averaged a goal or assist every 63 minutes that they have played in the Premier League while they were both on the pitch.

That alone should be a strong enough case for Klopp to play them alongside each other in the Liverpool midfield more often.

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