Both immediately before and after his devastating ankle injury and subsequent five-month layoff, the hype around Harvey Elliott was palpable. A surprise move into central midfield from his previous wide attacker role during pre-season carried over into the season proper, and the former Fulham man looked absolutely inspired in the position, progressing the ball with both runs and passes at a world-class level, while remaining incredibly busy on defence and offering a legitimate goal threat.
His first goal came instantly upon his readmission into the side, as he, after garnering copious praise for his training performances, swiveled and buried a volley into the bottom corner in front of the Kop as Cardiff were dispatched in the FA Cup fourth round.
Then... nothing, or next to it. Elliott was included in the first leg against Inter, and came off after a rather anonymous effort in which he was outmuscled by the high-intensity Italian side, but with the exception of a quarter-final start against Nottingham Forest and substitute appearances in the domestic cups against Norwich and Chelsea, the 19-year old simply wasn’t involved.
He was an unused substitute in the remaining Champions League fixtures, which, importantly, feature 23-man squads, but missed out on the squad entirely more often than not in both the Premier League and FA Cup, and questions began to be raised about the reasons for his omissions. Some, including this writer, speculated that a rash of unfortunate social media decisions had played a part, and fans paying attention on the platforms will have been unable to avoid the undercurrent of starlet drama surrounding the young man in the months overlapping his inability to get on the pitch.
Fortunately, the man himself has poured cold water on any such speculation. Sort of.
“I know myself that I am fit but it’s down to the manager to make the decisions,” Elliott told the ECHO. “We’re all 100% behind his decisions and we all take it on the chin. So I haven’t been playing that much but it’s been all down to me really.
“There have been some training weeks where I haven’t really been at my best and it’s down to me to make sure that I am showing the gaffer that I am able to play and I am ready for the opportunity like today when it is given to me.
“It was nice to get back out there again in the Premier League,” he continued. “Get some minutes and obviously I know I needed to keep myself fresh. I obviously had a terrible injury and I knew I didn’t need to rush anything,”
So he’s fit but he’s had a terrible injury so maybe not entirely fit and he’s maybe not been great in training some weeks. Not exactly rock solid stuff from the 19-year old here, but if his performance against Southampton is anything to go by, Elliott is ready to be a significant contributor to this side any time Klopp asks.
With two games to go in the season, one wonders if he’ll get the chance before summer. And, crucially, if he’ll take it.