The Importance of Depth – Winning Titles Beyond Starting XI
Winning titles is not about having the best starting XI. Winning titles is all about having the best possible squad. Liverpool have found that out the hard way at times under Jurgen Klopp.
On paper in the battles against Manchester City, Klopp’s side may have had the best team – but often lacked the depth to compete with Manchester City’s multi-billion pound squad. Ultimately, it was that depth which helped City create the little fine margins – those minuscule hair’s breadth differences that ended up separating Liverpool and City by a mere point.
This time around it feels different. This time around it feels like Liverpool have depth, and the players to create those fine margins.
Harvey Elliott – Testament to Liverpool’s Depth
A true case in point is Harvey Elliott’s performance against Burnley on Saturday. Elliott has started just three Premier League games for Liverpool. He’s very much a player there to provide depth in the squad.
But against Burnley he was able to step-up and deliver. Elliott played a crucial role in both of Liverpool’s goals in the second-half which ultimately saw Klopp’s side get all three points at Anfield.
It wasn’t a pretty performance overall from Liverpool, but in the end Elliott coming off the bench made the difference – not for the first time this season either.
The 20-year-old also scored a winning goal against Crystal Palace in added time back in December. In November he provided the assist to Luis Diaz’s equaliser against Luton Town – again very much in the dying embers of that game. And back in September when Liverpool were drawing 1-1 away to Wolverhampton, Elliott’s substitution played a key role in the Reds winning the game 3-1 – with his shot hitting the post and bouncing from the back of the goalkeeper into the net for Liverpool’s third goal.
That makes it five goal contributions for Elliott – all coming off the bench in the Premier League, and all securing important points in the title race. Already it’s obvious what he brings to the table. He is Klopp’s super-sub. His new Divock Origi. But there is more to Elliott than meets the eye. There is so much more he offers when he is on the pitch other than goals and assists which make Liverpool better.
🏴 Harvey Elliott has already broken his personal best for goal contributions in a single season in the Premier League.
He now has 5 goal contributions in just 3 starts this season and 560 total minutes.
Averaging a goal or assist every 112 minutes. pic.twitter.com/VgGkI2Akxg
— Bence Bocsák (@BenBocsak) February 10, 2024
Elliott’s Impactful Performances – Underlying Numbers
So far this season there can be no debate that Elliott has been one of Liverpool’s most creative players. The underlying numbers back that up as well. When it comes to expected assists Elliott averages 0.25 xA per 90. This puts him level with Trent Alexander-Arnold as the two second highest performers in the metric for Liverpool in all competitions only marginally edged out by Mohamed Salah at 0.29 per 90.
On top of that Elliott also averages the most passes (2.74 per 90) into the box in all competitions for Liverpool as per FBref – more than Alexander-Arnold (2.56 per 90). He’s simply brilliant at threading little passes into the opposition’s penalty area and creating goal-scoring opportunities.
Elliott thrives in picking up central positions in the opposition’s final third, and almost functions at times as a right-sided attacking midfielder – finding the gaps between the opposition’s defence and midfield.
As his heatmap demonstrates, he is best in these positions operating just in between the lines for Liverpool.
And when he doesn’t receive the ball in these positions, he’s also very adept at taking the ball with him into the final third. For Liverpool no one averages more carries into the opposition’s final third in all competitions this season than Elliott (3.55 per 90) – way more than Dominik Szoboszlai in second place (2.94 per 90).
Usually when Elliott goes on a run, or tries to beat his man – he is quite effective. As per FBref, out of Liverpool players who’ve attempted 1.5 take-ons per 90 – only Curtis Jones has a better success rate (61.1%) than Elliott (57.9%) this season.
Defensive Contributions and Improvement
One of the criticisms about Elliott last season was that he didn’t win enough duels – which ultimately made Liverpool’s midfield more porous. As per Wyscout, Elliott participated in 5.56 defensive duels per 90 and won 56% in domestic competitions last season.
This season he’s worked on that ‘weakness’ in his game and the improvements are backed up by the numbers as well. In domestic competitions this season Elliott is still averaging around the same amount of defensive duels (5.52 per 90) but he is now winning a significantly higher rate at 64.9% – an improvement of almost nine percent in the space of a season.
Meanwhile, as per FBref only Alexis Mac Allister (1.68 per 90) and Wataru Endo (1.31 per 90) have won more tackles in all competitions out of Liverpool’s midfield players than Elliott (1.36 per 90) this season.
🔴 Morning you top of the table Reds
— AnfieldIndex (@AnfieldIndex) February 11, 2024
Bright Future Ahead
Elliott is still only 20-years-old. At 20-years-old nobody is going to be a finished product. What’s really encouraging about his performances this season is that he’s improving all the time. He’s worked on his weaknesses from last season and is constantly getting better and better.
Even in terms of his total goal contributions – he’s now just three goal contributions away from matching his tally from last season – even though he has played 705 minutes less football so far this season.
Naturally, there will be calls for him to start more games. But time is on his side. And for now he might even be better suited to that ‘Origi super-sub role.’ One thing is for certain if Liverpool do win the league title this season – Elliott will have played a key part in that success. He is simply indispensable to Klopp’s squad right now.