With injuries leaving Liverpool light in midfield, Harvey Elliott can provide a much-needed spark to kickstart The Reds’ season…
HOW does one solve a problem like Liverpool’s midfield?
Ah, the perennial question.
It’s the only part of the pitch that seems to cause major differences in opinions and take serious criticism, and one that has arguably defined Liverpool’s sluggish start to the season.
At Fulham, they were bypassed. They were bossed and bullied instead of being the bullies themselves and generally struggled to gain a foothold. Against Palace, there was clear improvement and yet their midfield still ultimately ran through ours.
There are mitigating circumstances to consider of course, the fact that there’s always a sense it’s in a state of perpetual flux given injuries being one, but it’s a puzzle Jurgen Klopp needs to solve.
Our best performances last season came with a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara, and the renewed absence of the latter over the next few weeks will be a big miss. In him, The Reds possess a player who can trouble defences from deep, pick a pass and unlock the door. He is gifted and highly influential, but he hasn’t been on the pitch nearly enough for Liverpool.
His absence leaves Klopp with a problem to solve, and given the managers repeated messaging about the need for “the right player” who can help not only now but benefit the side for the future, finding a solution in the market feels increasingly unlikely, leaving him with the unenviable task of finding solutions in house.
One player who would appear to fit the bill is Harvey Elliott, who has been a rare bright spark in a disappointing campaign so far.
Starting his first game of the season against Crystal Palace on Monday night ahead of both Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita, Elliott shone at both ends of the pitch, moving the ball quickly and progressively. In doing so, he injected pace into the transitions, getting the team quickly up the pitch.
There is an unpredictability to his play in that he can commit defenders, has a propensity to shoot and can pick a pass. That his first instinct is always to drive forward in possession gives the team an extra edge. Indeed, in a team of much more experienced players, it was the 19-year-old that was Liverpool’s most dangerous asset.
Providing much needed creativity on the right-hand side, he combined well with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah, which was a major theme of last season before his injury against Leeds in September.
Given the growing sense that the midfield, though tireless in its work rate, could use a more attacking axis, the trio’s chemistry could be key to helping Liverpool stop their early-season slump.
What will have impressed Klopp most though, is the maturity and diligence shown in his defensive play. Intensity is the hallmark of this Liverpool side and no-one displayed it more than him. Completing five tackles and two interceptions, he was proactive and on the front foot, closing down and winning the ball high up the pitch.
His recent signing of a new long-term contract on improved terms underlines how highly he is rated and there’s no doubt he will have a key role to play both for the present and future.
Whether operating as a number eight in a 4-3-3 or slotting into a 4-2-3-1, his start to the campaign has offered plenty of encouragement and his tactical flexibility will be invaluable amidst the ongoing injury crisis.
It’s a marathon not a sprint, but Liverpool would do well to start running. Harvey Elliott feels key to doing so.
Klopp will know when you’re up against a Manchester City side as good as they are, every single point feels essential. Past experiences have rather painfully shown us as much.
Liverpool must regroup, reset and go again. It’s about getting points on the board with minimal fuss and that task starts at Old Trafford.
The Reds have more in every department. They’d do well to show it.
“Given the need for a midfielder and the good relationship they have with Nunes’ agent, if Liverpool were serious on him I wouldn’t have anticipated too many hurdles…”— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 18, 2022
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