It has not been the best of starts to the season for Liverpool. Highly regarded as title-challengers yet again, the Reds drew against Fulham and Crystal Palace before losing in an abject performance against Manchester United. The squad finally got things on track in a big way against Bournemouth, crushing the Cherries 9-0.
One of the bright spots through the first for games of the season has been the play of young midfielder Harvey Elliott. The 19 year old has showcased bags of potential during his loan with Blackburn two seasons ago, and got fans salivating during a short stint last season before he suffered a broken and dislocated ankle.
The youngster, called by some as Star Boy, has consistently been Liverpool’s best player in a midfield plagued by both questions and injuries. With Thiago and Naby Keita both missing due to injury, Elliott has taken on the role as the main ball progresser and shot creator in midfield. Many teams have players that are ball progressers or shot creators, but Harvey Elliott is proving to be both, and doing it with aplomb.
Elliott has been fantastic moving the ball up the pitch through the first four games of the season. According to FBRef.com, he is averaging just over 6 progressive carries AND over 6 progressive passes per 90. He has put those numbers up while also being very efficient with the ball. He’s completing almost 85% of his passes on the season, and has successfully completed 6 of his 7 carries. He’s also getting on the end of over 5.7 progressive passes per 90 himself. Basically, Harvey Elliott is getting the ball moved up the pitch, one way or another.
The ball progression isn’t just happening because Elliott is just dropping deep to move the ball up the field, either. He’s getting the ball in advanced positions and moving it into dangerous areas in the attacking third of the field. Over 58% of his touches (125 of 214 total) have occurred in the attacking third or opposition’s 18 yard box.
Of course, just getting the ball up the pitch is only part of the puzzle. What happens with the ball in attacking areas is also a huge part of the equation for the young midfielder. Harvey leads Liverpool thus far with almost 6.5 shot creation actions per 90 minutes. That statistic is currently tops in the Premier League. I know we’re only four games into the season, but hot damn!
Elliott’s vision and passing has always been lauded, and he has been showing it with 2 key passes per 90. He leads the team with 1.3 expected assists (0.46/90 minutes), though he has yet to record an assist on the season. His understanding of where seemingly everyone on the pitch is at any given time, coupled with his quick release on passes, has come very close to springing multiple goals.
While his passing has always been a strength, one of the early knocks on Elliott was his penchant for passing instead of shooting at times. The youngster spent time this offseason working with a shooting specialist to help him with shot recognition and finishing. The work seems to be paying off as Elliott is now averaging almost 3 shots per 90 minutes (8 shots over 258 minutes). He scored his first Premier League goal against Bournemouth with a sweetly struck left-footed effort from just outside the box.
Beyond the statistics, one of the most impressive things about Harvey Elliott has been his understanding of space. When you watch him on the field, he always seems to appear in just the right spot at the right time. Playing primarily out on the right of midfield, he is rotating in and out of space to allow both Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold to also take up good attacking positions.
There are still questions about the composition of the midfield this season, with manager Jürgen Klopp recently saying Liverpool are actively looking to sign a player before the end of the transfer window. What should not be questioned is that Harvey Elliott is not just a future option for this midfield, but is ready to step in an be a key player in the squad.