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Editor’s Column: Harvey Elliott will have his Phil Foden breakout this season

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This is one of those summer articles that fans everywhere will be able to remind me of in 12 months’ time, especially if it proves to be spectacularly wrong.

But there we go. I’m willing to go out on my sword on this one, because I think Harvey Elliott is that good. 

In 2017, I wrote a piece entitled, ‘The season Roberto Firmino turns into Luis Suarez,’ and he went on to score 27 goals, so sometimes I get it right. I’ll take similar credit for ‘Thiago is a conundrum Liverpool will solve and then thrive as a result,’ and ‘Pundits and Bookmakers have written Liverpool off, and it suits us perfectly’.

Predicting Elliott will reach the extravagant levels Phil Foden has though is a little bolder.

After all, this is a player who hasn’t played 90 minutes in 2022 and was often actually left off the bench during Liverpool’s run-in, in which he dropped below James Milner and Curtis Jones in our midfield pecking order.

The other conundrum with the 19-year-old is that there isn’t an obvious role for him in Jurgen Klopp’s traditional 4-3-3. He isn’t fast or direct enough to play in the Mo Salah right-wing spot, and doesn’t possess the traditional, defensively stable characteristics of a midfielder in the central three.

The closest player stylistically to Elliott Liverpool have had in the Klopp-era is probably Xherdan Shaqiri. Technically excellent, left-footed, vision, skill, but not impressive physically and without natural defensive awareness.

Shaq never showed a willingness to learn this side of the game, however, whereas Elliott is desperate to improve and soak up everything he can from his team-mates and coaching staff. The mentality is a huge difference and a reason why Elliott is set for the top.

His attitude within the camp is famous. Here’s what James Milner said about the teenager after his horrible ankle injury, picked up against Leeds last term.

“He’s been so positive from the start, to be honest,” Milner told Liverpoolfc.com at the time. “I was talking about mental strength before, as soon as it happened, the things he was saying, he talks like he’s been through it all before and he’s a 30-odd-year-old player.

“He’s incredible. He’s got a great mindset, he’s done all his work, he’s progressing really well. Not too far off getting rid of the crutches, I think, which is fantastic.”

Assistant manager Pep Lijnders went one step further after Elliott’s rapid return to action,

“Let me say it like this, he didn’t lose his football brain!” he said.

“He shows immediately what he’s about. It would be a crime if you would not play him if he trains like this, but we know it’s just the start of his start with the team training. He needs time and we go step by step, of course.

“Some players they never knock on the door, they run through it – and he’s one of them.”

So why did Elliott barely get a look in after he got fit? Jurgen Klopp and his team decided it would be smarter to let his body get fully prepared for pre-season before an assault on 2022/23. After all, we had bodies in the centre of the park and we were winning every game. There was no need to rush him or pressurise his minutes.

But what Elliott allows us tactically is very interesting. Because he has a penchant to drift wide, he directly allows Trent Alexander-Arnold into the half-spaces more centrally. His feet are also brilliant which allows quick one-twos with Mo Salah, and that trio did exceptional things on the right early on last season.

You can see in the clips below, although Elliott is technically playing as part of the midfield three, he goes towards the touchline and let’s Trent and Salah cut in.

Jordan Henderson can also do this job, but his quick link-up play isn’t as good and he has no ability to run with the ball through lines. In truth, Hendo’s best position now is as the anchoring midfielder, which is why many think Klopp will adapt to a 4-2-3-1 this term, which will feature a double-pivot.

Thiago, Fabinho, Hendo and Naby Keita are all very capable in one of these two positions, which gives licence to a more creative, free midfielder further ahead. Curtis Jones, Roberto Firmino, Fabio Carvalho and definitely Elliott will suit this spot perfectly.

Elliott will play a huge part of pre-season and don’t be surprised if he starts the season in the team again, just like he did last term. Remember, at the beginning of 2021/22, Elliot was being picked ahead of a fit Thiago and wowing fans with his performances.

Pep Guardiola has managed Foden brilliantly, in truth. He didn’t throw him in early, but tried him in different positions, smartening him up tactically while never putting him in a box in terms of what he is. 

This is the style with modern playmakers. They can play wide, central, in midfield or as a false-9, and Elliott could become this kind of player for us. He doesn’t need a defining role. Bernardo Silva has never one at Manchester City either and Elliott possesses a similarly exquisite touch and quickness of mind.

With Klopp also bringing in Carvalho, it perhaps signals an attempt to add more creativity between the lines. Traditionally, we’ve created via our fullbacks and through the brilliance of our forwards, with central players providing a platform, pressing and recycling possession.

But Carlo Ancelotti mentioned after the Champions League Final how it was easy to prepare for Liverpool, as our style is so defined and well-known. Perhaps it’s time for the next stage in the Klopp revolution, where tricky, skilful players like Elliott can express themselves more freely and make an already brilliant team less predictable.

There’s unlikely to be any more central midfield signings this summer, which certainly points towards the 4-2-3-1 becoming used more. (It often was last season, just not from the start…). Elliott, fully fit and with another summer of training under his belt, can flourish. And I’m pretty sure he will.



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